Gallstone Diet: 11 Foods to Keep an Eye On

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), up to 25 million Americans have gallstones

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hard and, as the name would suggest, stone-like bodies formed by bile and cholesterol. As they accumulate in the gallbladder, they become increasingly larger, ranging in size from a grain of sand all the way up to a golf ball.

What are the Complications of Gallstones?

The larger and more numerous they become, the more dangerous for your health they are. While many people have gallstones and suffer no ill side effects, there are some people who suffer consequences, including:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain near the liver
  • Liver damage

Individuals with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, clinical obesity, and damaged or weak livers are especially at risk for severe complications from gallstones.

What Foods Should People with Gallstones Know About?

One of the best ways to manage gallstones is to prevent them with a healthy diet. Thankfully, researchers have found the dietary causes of gallstones and which diets are best at preventing them. 

Let’s take a look at all the ways your diet can affect gallstones. This includes both foods that lessen the odds of gallstones forming, and the ones that cause them to form. 

1. Fresh Fruits

Fresh fruits are good for your health all around. They’re packed with vitamins and antioxidants that help you stay healthy. If you were concerned about gallstones, they’re also a great for this condition, too.

Fresh Fruits and Gallstones

Gallstones most often form when your body has too much cholesterol. Specifically, your gallbladder has a hard time keeping up with high levels of cholesterol and fat. Fruits are naturally low in both.

Types of Fresh Fruits

Really, any type of fruit will do. If you want the most health for your fruit dollar, stick to fresh fruits that are in season or fruits that have been flash-frozen or similarly preserved. Dried fruit can also be a great replacement for people looking to cut high-sugar content foods out of their diet. Here are some fruits to consider:

  • Apples
  • Watermelons
  • Frozen fruit smoothies with no added sugar
  • Dried fruit as a sweet treat

2. Fresh Veggies

Fresh vegetables are other great health choices for all-around health improvement. In addition to being just good for you, they also specifically help prevent the formation of gallstones. Why? Because fresh veggies have no cholesterol and very little fat.

Fresh Veggies and Gallstones

Individuals looking to lower their risk of gallstones should turn to fresh vegetables. Vegetables contain very little sugar, fat, and salt, as well as no cholesterol. Not only that, but they’re also packed full of vitamins and much-needed nutrients.

All in all, fresh vegetables will promote a healthy lifestyle that will go a long way to lowering your odds of forming gallstones.

Fresh Veggies to Try

Just like with fresh fruit, any type of fresh vegetable will do. Think about what types of food you like and how you can incorporate more fresh vegetables into your diet. Here are a few ways you can add fresh vegetables to your existing meal plan.

  • Add a side salad to your meals
  • Leafy greens like spinach make great additions to smoothies
  • Veggies are the perfect topping; try adding them to sandwiches, pasta, and pizza

3. Fish

It can be very difficult to incorporate meat into a gallstone diet. Why? Because many meat dishes are high in both cholesterol and fat. However there is one exception to this general rule: seafood.

Fish and Gallstones

Fish is naturally low in cholesterol and fat. These qualities make fish a great choice for people looking to keep meat in their diet while still lowering the risk of gallstones.

An important factor to keep in mind is that different preparation methods can add a lot of cholesterol and fat to fish. That means you want to avoid fish that has been deep-fried. Outside of that, many different types of fish are great dietary choices for people concerned about gallstones.

Types of Fish

The sky’s the limit when it comes to fish and seafood. Here are just a few of the examples of the types of fish and seafood you can enjoy while still lowering your risk of gallstones. 

  • Tuna
  • Canned sardines
  • Seafood such as muscles and crab

4. Coffee

Here, the NCBI comes back with research that suggests that coffee drinkers have fewer gallstones. 

In a recent study, men who drank coffee were shown to have lower amounts of gallstones. This is great news for everyone who starts their day with a cup of joe; incorporating just a little coffee into your diet may help you reduce your odds of forming gallstones.

Coffee and Gallstones

This research only applies to coffee that contains caffeine. In fact, it’s really not the coffee itself but the caffeine that lowers the odds of forming gallstones.

Caffeine causes increased contractions in the gallbladder as well as helping with bile production. Both of these actions combined help your gallbladder process cholesterol more efficiently and therefore have a lower chance of forming gallstones.

Types of Coffee

Remember that your coffee needs to contain caffeine in order for this to be effective. You should also avoid adding an excessive amount of sugars or cream as that would counteract some of the benefits.

  • Black coffee
  • Espresso
  • Lattes with non-dairy milk

These foods have been great for fighting gallstones. The following, however, you should steer clear of or greatly reduce your intake of in order to reduce your risk of gallstones…

5. Fried Foods

Now let’s get into the foods that aggravate gallstones.

Fried foods because are universally bad for individuals with gallstones. Some of the food items on this list can be had in moderation or even can be prepared in a way that does not aggravate gallstones. However, fried foods are soaking with fat and cholesterol that make them ticking time bombs for individuals looking to avoid gallstones.

Fried Foods and Gallstones

When your gallbladder has an excess buildup of cholesterol, that’s bile begins to form into gallstones. All fried foods are prepared by being deep fried in oil. This means that, by definition, all fried foods are very fatty. There’s really no way around this one.

You can try other preparation methods, such as baked french fries rather than deep fried ones. Outside of such measures, though, fried foods should be avoided altogether.

Fried Foods to Avoid

Fast food culture loves fried food. Deep frying is that incredibly quick way to cook just about anything from onion rings all the way to whole Thanksgiving turkeys. Keep an eye out for these fried foods if you are looking to avoid gallstones. 

  • French fries
  • Onion rings
  • Fried meats
  • Fried desserts

6. Processed Foods

Processed foods tend to be high in salt as well as fat. Furthermore, since processed foods undergo many different chemical treatments, they also contain a variety of ingredients that can aggravate gallstones.

Processed Foods and Gallstones

Processed foods are all of the prepackaged goods you can find at any convenience store. These range from pre-packaged donuts all the way to potato chips. While all prepackaged foods are not equal, many of the ones available on today’s market are loaded with salt, cholesterol, and fat. Because of these three things, individuals looking to lower their risk of gallstones should avoid processed foods.

Processed Foods to Avoid

When in doubt, always look at the label. As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to avoid processed foods altogether. These kinds of foods include:

  • Doughnuts
  • Packaged foods, such as potato chips and cheese snacks
  • Pre-packaged desserts

7. Whole Milk

Whole milk can aggravate gallstones, so people struggling with this condition might be better off sticking with other dairy products.

Whole Milk and Gallstones

Cholesterol and fat are two of the leading causes of gallstones; whole milk has an abundance of both. This includes both whole milk as a beverage as well as products derived from whole milk, such as cheese and some desserts.

Reducing or eliminating whole milk from your diet includes whole milk in beverages as well as finding which products contain whole milk as an ingredient. 

Whole Milk Products to Avoid

In order to lower your odds of forming gallstones, you should avoid whole milk products. This includes both whole milk, and other foods that use whole milk as a main ingredient.

  • Whole milk
  • Cheese
  • Fatty yogurts and other fermented whole milk products
  • Clotted, whipped, and other whole milk-based creams

8. Red Meat

Red meat is an incredibly common cause of gallstones. It is also one of the cornerstones of many Western diets. So while it may be difficult, limiting your red meat intake or eliminating it altogether is one of the best ways to lower your risk of this condition.

Red Meat and Gallstones

Fatty red meats are loaded with cholesterol. So, taking them out of your diet can mean lower risk of these stones. However, quitting cold turkey can be tough. So, it may be a good idea to start by eliminating or reducing your intake of the fattiest meats first.

Red Meats to Avoid

You should avoid any and all red meats that are excessively fatty. These meats include: 

  • Pork
  • Steak
  • Bacon

9. Candy

If you’re eating the wrong type of candy, you can be jeopardizing your gallbladder. Specifically, candy with refined white sugar can lead to gallstones. Unfortunately, most candy is made of mostly refined white sugar. 

Candy and Gallstones

One of the leading foods that causes the formation of gallstones is refined white sugar. Unfortunately, many of the different types of candy available today are mostly of refined white sugar. This fact means that if you’re concerned with gallstones, you should be avoiding most types of candy. 

Types of Candy to Avoid

If you’re looking for healthy candy alternatives, consider switching to dried fruits or sugar-free candies. 

  • Avoid candies that use refined sugar
  • Stick to sugar-free candy
  • Try dried fruit as a super-healthy alternative (so long as they aren’t loaded with added sugar)

10. Soda

Soda is possibly the single worst beverage for individuals concerned about gallstones. Everything on this list we’ve discussed so far that can aggravate gallstones is present in most sodas.

Types of Soda to Avoid

In general, it’s probably best to avoid most types of soda. That being said, the following changes may help:

  • Avoid sodas that are high in sugar
  • Stick to sugar-free diet soda
  • Consider sparkling water as an alternative

11. Alcohol

Alcohol is a bit tricky when it comes to gallstones, with its effects largely depending on your own medical history and how much alcohol you’re consuming.

Alcohol and Gallstones

There is some research that suggests moderate consumption of alcohol actually helps gallstone symptoms. In other words, consuming small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis may actually lower your risk of gallstones.

Before you run out to the liquor store for a treatment for your gallstones, it’s also worth pointing out that individuals with unhealthy livers or a history of problems with alcohol can actually have their problems worsened by the solution.

Out of all the dietary changes on this list, this one is the most case-dependent. If you are looking to change your alcohol consumption in order to avoid gallstones, think about your own medical history first and discuss this option with your physician.

Types of Alcohol to Avoid

Unlike the other dietary changes on this list, this one is less about particular types of alcohol and more about the dose. You want to make sure that the dose of alcohol is relatively small. Also, avoid alcoholic drinks that interfere with other dietary restrictions for gallstones, which includes cocktails with high amounts of sugar. 

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