Gallstones are a common ailment that often accompanies metabolic conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. They can block the bile duct and cause severe abdominal pain as well as vomiting, jaundice, and inflammation of the gallbladder and the pancreas. If you are diagnosed with gallstones, your physician may recommend getting your gallbladder removed through a procedure called a cholecystectomy.
What can you expect during and after a cholecystectomy? What is the cholecystectomy diet and how should you follow it post-surgery? Below we answer all of your questions about gallbladder removal surgery, recovery, and what foods to eat to support the healing process.
Gallbladder Removal Surgery: What Does It Entail?
Gallbladder removal surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is the complete removal of your gallbladder.
What to Expect After Gallbladder Surgery
Before heading into surgery, it can be very helpful to know what the surgical procedure and the recovery process looks like, as well as possible complications.
When you have a cholecystectomy, your surgeon will remove the entire gallbladder organ, which is a small pouch nestled right beneath your liver. Cholecystectomies are performed by general surgeons who have specialized in gastrointestinal disorders.
Your surgeon will perform the procedure either as laparoscopic surgery or open surgery. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is much less invasive and involves making small incisions in the abdomen near the gallbladder. A camera and special surgical tools will be inserted in order to complete the procedure. On the other hand, open surgery is performed by cutting open the abdomen so that the organs are visible without a camera.
In general, the rate of post-surgery complications is lower following a laparoscopic cholecystectomy in comparison to open surgery. Under most circumstances, you will have a laparoscopic surgery. However, if the surgeon foreshadows difficulty removing your gallbladder due to inflammation (cholecystitis), they may elect to perform an open surgery.
Remember that serious complications after surgery are very rare. If you experience serious symptoms such as severe pain, a fever, jaundice, or signs of infection, seek medical attention immediately.
After your procedure, you will most likely be able to go home on the same day. You will be monitored in the hospital for a few hours while you regain consciousness after anesthesia.
While at home, the first week of recovery will require a lot of rest. After a week, you will be able to engage in nonstrenuous activities and go to work, provided that your job is not physical.
After two weeks, you will likely feel back to your normal self, though it may take up to six weeks to reach a full recovery.
The Cholecystectomy Diet: What to Eat After Gallbladder Removal
Post-cholecystectomy, you will need to follow a cholecystectomy diet, also known as the cholecystectomy diet, in order to support short-term recovery as well as long-term health.
1. Stick to Healthy Fats
The gallbladder is an organ that is responsible for storing bile, which is a digestive juice that helps break down fats in your diet. A common misconception is that your body no longer produces bile. However, this is not the case. Your body continues to produce bile, there is simply no place to store it. As a result, as bile is produced, it is immediately and continuously released into the small intestine to aid with digestion.
However, the body does produce less bile. Therefore, it’s important not to eat too much fat at one time. Don’t avoid fat altogether; instead, stick primarily to plant-based fats. Healthy fats are critical in supporting growth and repair while lowering inflammation. Below is a list of foods to eat during recovery that contain healthy fats:
- Fatty fish: Salmon and mackerel both contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These forms of polyunsaturated fat possess particularly potent anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, salmon and mackerel are also excellent sources of protein and vitamin D.
- Nuts and seeds: Flax and chia both possess the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Ground chia and flax can be sprinkled in oatmeal, cereal, sauces, and nearly all recipes. Other nuts and seeds that provide healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats include pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, and peanuts. Nuts and seeds also contain lots of fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Certain fruits: Avocado and coconut are two fruits that are high in healthy fats. Avocado contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and is also chock-full of fiber and vitamin C. When eating coconut, stick to fresh coconut. Though coconut contains saturated fat, the predominant type of saturated fat is medium-chain triglycerides, which have anti-inflammatory properties and provide a boost of energy. Plus, fresh coconut is rich in B vitamins and fiber.
2. Eat Plenty of Fiber
Fiber is found in most plant-based foods, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber is crucial for supporting gastrointestinal health and beneficial gut flora following surgery. Plus, fiber is important for preventing constipation that may occur as a result of ileus or pain medications. Ileus is a common side effect of abdominal surgery that essentially halts digestive function for several days after the surgery and may result in constipation. Ileus is the body’s natural protective mechanism in response to surgery-induced trauma.
If your physician prescribes opioid painkillers to manage post-surgery pain, keep in mind that these can cause constipation. Make sure to only take them for as long as you require them for pain, and then use ibuprofen and acetaminophen to help cope with any residual pain.
Following gallbladder removal, it’s important to ensure that the digestive system gets moving and produces regular bowel movements as soon as possible. Insoluble and soluble fibers found in plant-based foods expedite the passage of food through the digestive system. Plus, when eating high-fiber foods, your body also gets the added benefits of lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. These micronutrients are essential for supporting optimal recovery.
Helpful high-fiber foods include:
- Brown rice
- Black beans
- Sweet potato
3. Eat High-Quality Protein
High-quality protein is crucial for supporting your immune system, which is working hard to repair the surgical wound and to help your body adjust. Moreover, protein helps to maintain muscle mass. While your activity is restricted, eating enough high-quality protein helps to ensure that you don’t lose muscle mass during the recovery process.
What exactly is high-quality protein? High-quality protein is food that contains all essential amino acids in optimal ratios. Amino acids are the building blocks that join together to form protein found in all kinds of foods. Both nonessential and essential acids comprise dietary protein. Essential amino acids are those that we require on a daily basis because the body is unable to synthesize them through biological processes. Plus, when we’re stressed or recovering from an injury, the body requires more essential amino acids than usual in order to promote repair.
Low-fat meat and dairy provide optimal ratios of essential amino acids. When choosing animal products for protein, opt for chicken breast, turkey breast, and nonfat Greek yogurt.
Foods to Avoid After Gallbladder Removal
In addition to what you eat, it’s equally important to avoid certain foods.
1. Avoid Saturated and Trans Fats
Saturated and trans fats likely culprits in the development of gallstones and gallbladder disease, that led to the need for a cholecystectomy. In the absence of a gallbladder, less bile is available in the digestive system to aid with fat metabolism. As a result, it’s critical not to overload the digestive system with saturated and trans fats, which are the unhealthy kinds of fat.
In addition to being difficult to break down and leading to gallbladder issues, saturated and trans fats also cause a host of other diseases. Over time, excess consumption of unhealthy fats leads to abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Over time, cholesterol accumulation in the bloodstream leads to the formation of plaques. Plaque formation, in a process called atherosclerosis, can ultimately cause the complete blockage of blood flow in certain parts of the body. This significantly raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, saturated and trans fats impair the normal functioning of insulin, the hormone responsible for signaling cells to utilize blood glucose. Excess intake of saturated and trans fats can exacerbate insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, and fatty liver disease.
Steer clear of the following fatty foods after your cholecystectomy:
- Fatty Meats: Red meat, dark meat chicken, chicken skin, sausage, salami, and bacon are packed with saturated fats that are detrimental to digestive health and overall health.
- High-fat dairy products: Whole milk, cheese, and ice cream are filled with saturated fats. Avoid these dairy products to keep your digestive system and your cardiovascular system healthy.
- Fried foods: Fried foods like potato chips, French fries, and restaurant foods are packed with saturated and trans fats.
- Oils and spreads: Stay away from high-fat foods like olive oil, corn oil, coconut oil, lard, butter, and shortening. Even if olive oil and coconut oil contain healthy fats, these foods provide a very high concentration of fat, which can be taxing on the digestive system post-surgery. Butter and shortening, on the other hand, are abundantly used in baked goods and are filled with saturated fats.
2. Avoid Added Sugars and Refined Grains
Foods high in added sugars likely contributed to gallbladder issues prior to your surgery. Avoiding foods high in added sugars following surgery will support a fast recovery and help prevent digestive issues after the procedure.
Moreover, added sugar disrupts normal insulin function and contributes to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. The body processes refined grains in the same manner as it processes sugars.
To cut sugar and refined grains out of your diet, stay away from candy, sugary cereals, white bread, white rice, soft drinks, ice cream, and baked goods.
3. Avoid Foods That May Upset Your Digestive System
After gallbladder removal surgery, your body is recovering, and your digestive system is adjusting to the absence of an organ that was previously involved in digestive processes.
Certain foods can be disruptive to the digestive system as you heal from your surgery. Avoid spicy foods like chili peppers, jalapenos, and curry. Heavily spiced food can upset your stomach and cause diarrhea.
If you have other food sensitivities or intolerances, make sure to steer clear of these foods while recovering from gallbladder surgery. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, stay away from milk, yogurt, and other dairy products. If you’re sensitive to gluten, steer clear of wheat bread, tortillas, and other products.
Steer clear of foods that may also contain irritating preservatives or dyes. Processed and packaged foods likely contain harmful additives, including foods like sausages, jerky, deli meats, baked goods, chips, and sugary drinks.
More Tips for Promoting Recovery from Gallbladder Surgery
In addition to eating and avoiding certain foods, here are some more tips for making sure your recovery from gallbladder removal surgery is as smooth as possible.
1. Introduce Foods Slowly
Eating vast quantities of high-fiber foods may induce a laxative effect that can cause bloating and diarrhea. Slowly incorporate beans, Brussels sprouts, and nuts back into your diet, avoiding gorging on too many of these foods too quickly. Though you want to keep the digestive system moving with fiber, you also want to prevent signs of gastrointestinal distress such as bloating and diarrhea. Such symptoms may also indicate that your body isn’t absorbing fluid and nutrients as readily. It’s important to give your digestive system room to adjust following surgery.
2. Eat Smaller Meals
It’s important not to overwhelm your digestive system when you’re recovering from gallbladder surgery. Because less bile is produced, less fat can be broken down at a single point in time. As a result, it’s a better idea to eat small meals throughout the day to allow your digestive system to systematically break down everything you eat, without resulting in unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Over time, as your body heals, you can increase your portion size. However, it’s a generally healthier practice to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
3. Stay Active, but Don’t Engage in Rigorous Activity Too Soon
In the days and weeks after surgery, make sure you engage in all activities that have been cleared by your physician. This may include gentle stretching and brisk walking.
Staying active is helpful for preventing the formation of blood clots following surgery. Remaining immobile for a prolonged period of time causes poor circulation, in turn increasing the risk of blood clots. A blood clot can be a serious threat to your health if it travels to your lungs and blocks proper circulation. You can lower the risk of blood clots by walking around and engaging in consistent gentle exercise, to dissipate blood clotting.
Make sure to always follow your physician’s recommendations. Most likely, you will need to avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting for at least a month following surgery.
4. Keep the Surgical Site Clean
As with any wound, improper hygiene can lead to bacterial growth and subsequent infection. Follow your surgeon’s directions for cleaning the surgical site and preventing infection. If you notice redness and oozing at the surgical site or have a fever and persistent vomiting, contact your physician immediately.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Even though the cholecystectomy diet focuses primarily on the foods to eat and foods to avoid after surgery, water is a critical component. Drinking at least eight glasses per day of water is essential to ensuring adequate blood flow and proper healing, and to making sure that food passes through the digestive system.
Things to Keep in Mind
After the initial stages of recovery, it’s important to continue the gallbladder surgery diet in order to support long-term health. Most likely, dietary factors played a role in causing gallstones and gallbladder disease. Foods high in saturated fat and added sugars are proven to trigger gallbladder issues. These same foods are implicated in insulin resistance, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease. In order to resolve any of these associated conditions and promote weight loss, stick to a diet high in fiber, healthy fats, and high-quality proteins.
As with other surgeries affecting the digestive system, such as weight loss surgery, new food sensitivities may develop in the post-surgery recovery phase. If you’re noticing patterns of gastrointestinal symptoms, try keeping a food log to record the foods you eat and the presence of symptoms.
If you’re preparing for gallbladder removal surgery, know that there are steps you can take to promote recovery after your procedure. Eating whole foods that are high in fiber and protein and low in saturated fat and sugar will support a healthy digestive system, speedy recovery, and overall wellbeing in the long term.