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You don’t have to permanently change your diet after gallbladder surgery. But making changes in the weeks after the procedure can help keep you comfortable.

If you’re having surgery to remove your gallbladder, you'll likely have to alter your diet.

But for how long?

“While you might have to change your diet after gallbladder surgery, most people can resume their normal pattern of eating after a few weeks,” says Vicky Bhagat, MD, gastroenterologist at Geisinger.

What does your gallbladder do?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac under the liver. It stores and concentrates bile, a yellow-green fluid. Bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder until it’s needed to help digest food. After you eat, the gallbladder contracts and squeezes bile through a small duct into the small intestine, where it helps break down fats.

The gallbladder may not seem important, but it plays a big role in digestion. Without it, bile flows directly from the liver into the small intestine, where it isn’t as effective.

Why would you have your gallbladder removed?

Sometimes bilirubin — a byproduct of broken-down red blood cells — or cholesterol can harden and form pebble-like deposits in your gallbladder called gallstones. Gallstones can vary in shape and size, and you can have one or many stones in your gallbladder.

“Gallstones form when your body produces too much cholesterol or bilirubin, or if your gallbladder doesn’t empty correctly,” says Dr. Bhagat.

When these stones block your bile duct, they can cause discomfort or even pain that requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms can include:

Some people don’t have any symptoms from gallstones.

“If you have severe abdominal pain in which you can’t find a comfortable position, have jaundice or a high fever, seek medical care immediately,” says Dr. Bhagat.

Some people have their gallbladders removed because they have a condition called cholecystitis, which is inflammation of the gallbladder. Cholecystitis can be caused by gallstones.

Other conditions that can make someone a candidate for gallbladder removal surgery include:

  • Biliary dyskinesia: An issue with bile mobility in the gallbladder
  • Choledocholithiasis: A bile duct blocked by gallstones
  • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas

What’s the best diet after gallbladder surgery?

After gallbladder surgery, you may need to eat smaller meals more often and avoid high-fat foods.

For most people, removing the gallbladder doesn’t cause any problems with fat digestion because the liver still produces enough bile to do the job. But some people may need to change their diet after gallbladder surgery.

You may need to limit foods that are high in fat, such as fried foods, fatty meats, whole milk dairy products and butter. Instead, opt for leaner protein sources, such as grilled chicken or fish, tofu, legumes and low-fat dairy products.

It’s also important to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods to help with digestion and prevent constipation. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, including water, unsweetened tea or coffee and low-sugar fruit juices.

How long should you follow this diet?

You should follow a gallbladder diet for at least two weeks after surgery. This will help your body recover and adjust to the new way of digesting food.

“After two weeks, you can start to reintroduce high-fat foods into your diet, but slowly and in moderation,” says Dr. Bhagat. “It’s also important to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods and stay hydrated.”

Next steps:

Learn about gastroenterology at Geisinger
How to get more fiber in your diet
Tips to help you stay hydrated
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