According to the National Institutes of Health, it estimates that as many as 20 million Americans have gallstones. However, most people with gallstones do not even know they have them. These are termed silent or painless gallstones. While it is always advisable to follow a healthy lifestyle, if one is asymptomatic, nothing needs to be done in terms of diet or medical treatment. Normally if one is having problems, doctors will want to remove the gallbladder. For most individuals, after the gallbladder is removed, they can return to eating the foods they desire.
What are Gallstones?
Gallstones are small stone-like deposits that form in the gallbladder, normally made from cholesterol. The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder. When food is eaten, particularly fatty foods, the gallbladder squeezes bile through the cystic duct into the small intestines. Sometimes, a gallstone will get into the duct, which causes a gallbladder attack and pain. So the more food you eat that causes the gallbladder to squeeze bile out, the greater your chances of having a gallbladder attack. Learning which foods to avoid may reduce this risk.
Who Is at Risk for Gallstones?
The old-time mnemonic for people who were most at risk for gallstones were the four F’s: fat, forty, female and fertile. The NIH indicates that obesity is a strong risk factor in developing gallstones, especially among women. As the Body Mass Index goes up, the risk of developing gallstones also increases. However, losing weight rapidly also increases the chances of gallstones, and people whose weight goes up and down have an even greater chance of developing gallstones. Females are much more likely to have gallstones than men, as are people over 40 years of age. Pregnant women are also more vulnerable to developing gallstones.
Individuals who have a family history of gallstones have increased risk of gallstones. Additionally, Native Americans are more susceptible. Women who use estrogen to manage menopause increase their chances of suffering from gallstones as well.
Foods to Avoid
The following foods are the most likely to cause a gallbladder attack in most people and should be avoided by those most at risk: Eggs (some people can tolerate poached or soft-boiled eggs), pork, onion, fowl, milk and other dairy products, coffee, grapefruit, oranges, beans (excluding green beans), nuts, corn, red meats, alcohol, saturated fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and trans-fats. Do not fry your foods.
Other potentially problematic foods to avoid include: black tea, chocolate, ice cream, fruit juice, margarine, carbonated beverages, tap water, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, oats, wheat, barley, rye, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, refined and bleached foods like white flour. Also you should avoid smoking. Do not overeat and do not eat under stress, if possible.
Foods to Eat
The best foods to eat when you have gallstones are typically healthy ones. Prepare your foods by grilling, broiling, boiling, baking or poaching. Casseroles are normally also fine. Foods that normally do not cause problems include: beets, cucumbers, green beans, okra, sweet potatoes, avocados, vinegars, garlic, ripe tomatoes, shallots, cold water fish, lemons, grapes, apples, berries, papaya, pears, omega 3 oils and vegetable oils.
Safe foods to eat when you have gallstones also include: bread, cereals, pasta, rice and potatoes. However, it is important to prepare them without oils or fats.
Since many people eliminate coffee, tea, milk and fruit juice from the diet, a good breakfast drink is lemon juice in hot water.
Keeping a Food Diary
The foods that bring on a gallbladder attack vary with each individual. Some foods seem to be fine with some individuals and cause problems with others. By keeping a food diary of what you eat and symptoms you experience, you can narrow down which foods seem to cause you the most problems and avoid them. For example, many people tolerate tap water, poached eggs and fowl with the skin removed. Some people can tolerate small amounts of the foods to avoid. Often doctors may offer contradictory information and sometimes you see the same foods on lists of what not to eat and what to eat. So to some degree, you have to determine what is specifically causing you problems in order to identify which foods you can eat while you have gallstones.