Foods to Avoid for Gallstones

Jessica Gore
Gallstone Pain
Certain Foods can Aggravate Symptoms

If you have a history of gallbladder disease, you may be wondering if there are foods to avoid for gallstones. It is a common assumption that a poor diet causes or exacerbates gallstones, but this is only part of the picture. It may be true once gallstones have formed, certain foods will cause pain and discomfort, but other factors play a role in gallstone formation as well.

How Gallstones Form

One of your liver's many jobs is the secretion of bile, a bitter, green substance that aids in the digestion of fats and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as iron and calcium. Once formed and secreted by the liver, bile is stored in a tiny reservoir - your gallbladder - located just beneath your liver. Your gallbladder stores the bile until you eat something fatty and need it for digestion, at which time it is passed through a narrow channel known as the bile duct into your small intestine.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), Bile is made up of water, fats, cholesterol, bile salts, proteins and bilirubin. If something happens to alter the chemistry of your bile, cholesterol or bilirubin may come out of suspension and form stones in the gallbladder instead of passing into the small intestine. Most of the time, these stones are small enough to pass through the bile duct into the intestines and cause no problems, but if they become large enough they may block the channel, impeding the passage of bile and interfering with your ability to digest fats.

Gallstone Symptoms

Initially, gallstones may present no symptoms at all. When they are small, gallstones are unlikely to cause you any discomfort and although an estimated ten to twenty percent of American adults have gallstones, only one to three percent of people develop symptoms, according to eMedicine. When symptoms do develop, they may be sudden and painful. Common symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen. Gallstone pain may make inhalation difficult, and may radiate to your back or up toward your breastbone.
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

Are There Foods to Avoid for Gallstones?

Currently, no conclusive evidence supports that a poor diet alone causes gallstones, however both obesity and sudden weight loss are associated with an increased risk of gallstone formation. Once gallstones have formed and become symptomatic, however, certain foods may be more likely than others to trigger gallstone-related pain.

Because bile is needed to digest fats, eating fatty or greasy food can cause a painful attack. Examples of foods to avoid for gallstones include:

  • Red meat
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Deep-fried foods

Some people also find that particularly spicy or flavorful foods can aggravate symptoms as well, but this is not true for everyone. If you are able to eat spicy, low-fat foods without difficulty, there is no reason to avoid spices, but if you have problems with spicy foods they are best avoided until your gallbladder problems have been resolved.

In general, the most important foods to avoid for gallstones are those that cause pain or discomfort. This will not be the same for everyone, but will usually involve fatty foods. Until your treatment is complete, you will need to adopt a low-fat diet. Even once you are no longer experiencing gallstone symptoms, continuing your low fat diet is one of the best tools available to promote good health and longevity.

Foods to Avoid for Gallstones