My gallstones diet advice: how to live with gallstones

My gallstones diet advice: Ugh, my health has destroyed my productivity lately. Due to a mysterious stomach ailment, I’ve had a lot of “stomach” pain, visited the ER several times, met a lot of doctors, had many tests, and lost thirty pounds in less than seven weeks.

At this time we don’t know if it’s the main cause of the problem yet, but one thing going on for sure is that I have gallstones. Gallstones are quite literally stones that form in the gallbladder. As I’ve learned, the gallbladder is a little organ that sits below the liver (see the images below), and stores bile that is produced by the liver. When your body chemistry is out of whack (or perhaps because of hereditary factors), gallstones form, and the gallstones can then cause a lot of pain (though you can also have gallstones and never know it).

After all this, I now realize the actual “stomach” is just one small part of our overall digestive system, and these days my primary focus is on the gallbladder and gallstones, specifically improving my diet to reduce my gallbladder pain.

Note: I originally wrote this article in the summer of 2010. I survived on this gallbladder/gallstones diet for six months, lost a lot of weight because I couldn’t eat, but ultimately decided to give up my gallbladder to a surgeon.

My gallstones diet advice

Looking at this from a positive standpoint, it turns out that gallstones pain makes for a wonderful biofeedback mechanism. Eat too much, and the gallstones give you pain. Or eat a little, but too much of the wrong food, and the gallstones give you pain. Living with gallstones is like having a natural Lap-Band procedure, and I’ve found that by eating a “gallstone diet” I've been able to avoid pain and continue losing weight, which in my case is a good thing. As I update this article, now 12 weeks after my initial problems, I’ve lost 38 pounds and my cholesterol level is down to an amazing 140 — that's how healthy a good gallstones diet can be for you(!).

For the last eight weeks I've been paying real attention to what I eat, and the resulting gallbladder pain, or non-pain. Based on keeping a log of what I eat, I thought I'd share my gallstones diet advice here, in case it will help anyone else currently suffering from gallstones pain.

Gallstones diet Rule #1: Drink a lot of good fluids

Rule number one of my gallstones diet advice is to drink a lot of water. Whenever I have any gallbladder pain, I immediately start drinking water, and the pain subsides in roughly an hour. Or, if I just drink a lot of water from the morning on, the pain never gets too bad.

That being said, I don't happen to like water, so I usually add a wee bit of lemon juice and Equal to it, and it has a decent flavor. From time to time I'll also drink Gatorade or their G2 product.

Juice is also good. A product named Juicy Juice is actually made from real juice, so I've been focusing on it. I've read that grape juice is supposed to be very good for gallstones and gallbladder pain, and I've had no problems drinking it.

To summarize, okay drinks so far are:

  • Water, with or without lemon
  • Juicy Juice grape juice
  • Gatorade and Gatorade G2
  • A little bit of coffee (see the next section)

The liver, gallbladder, and stomach
(An image showing the liver, gallbladder, and related organs.)

Gallstones diet advice - Foods that are okay

Next, here's a list of foods that I have been able to eat in my gallstones diet without any gallbladder pain:

  • Saltine crackers (I lived on Saltines, chicken broth, and Gatorade G2 for five weeks)
  • Rice
  • Chicken soup with rice
  • Tomato-based pasta sauces
  • Olive oil
  • Cereal (with just a bit of milk)
  • Oatmeal
  • Small amounts of Smart Balance (fake butter)
  • Fruits like apple sauce, peaches, pears, and grapes
  • Vegetables
  • Gatorade
  • Chicken

Oreo cookies Even though they have a lot of fat, I have been able to eat some Oreos, though I never have more than one at a time.

Coffee Plain coffee seems to be okay, though I don't drink more than 1-2 cups all day. (Three weeks ago I couldn't even think about drinking coffee, so be careful here.) Also, I only add skim milk to it any more; the days of cream, whole milk, or even 2% milk seem to be gone.

Avocados I've read many pages of gallstone diet advice, and avocado advice varies. Personally, I've had five avocados now in the form of a simple guacamole recipe I make (avocado, salt, lemon juice), and I've had no problems with them, typically consuming nearly a full avocado in one sitting with some saltines.

Fiber I've been told to load up on the fiber. I already had to do this because of scar tissue pain in the area where my appendix used to be, but the doctor tells me to add even more. (As fiber supplements go, Metamucil is the best fiber product I've used, Citrucel the second best. I've found that other products cause, er, tons of bloating, "intestinal distress", and other socially unacceptable behavior, lol.)

The Gallbladder, Gallstones, and bile ducts
(Gallstones in the gallbladder and duct system.)

Gallstones diet advice - Foods that definitely cause pain

Chocolate I love chocolate, but it's now one of the worst foods for me. Chocolate used to be my favorite food group in the food pyramid, but recently I've tried chocolate chip cookies and Starbucks caffe mocha, and both of those cause gallstones pain. I can slip in very small quantities with a lot of water, but at some point you ask yourself if it's really worth it.

Milk I originally wrote that "Milk in all forms seems to cause problems", but as an update, I have been alternating skim milk and 2% milk in my gallstones diet, and while I still don't drink much, it has been okay. (The short story here is that I wasn't getting enough fat in my "gallstones diet", and was constantly light-headed. My doctor told me to try a little more milk, and it has worked out okay.)

High fat content I've read that any food with high fat content is going to cause gallstones pain. As I've mentioned, I don't eat much meat, and I don't eat much fried food, so I don't know all the details here yet. (But Avocados do have a ton of fat in them, and for some reason I've been able to eat them with no problems.)

Gallstones diet - Foods I don't know about yet

Here are some food products I like but haven't tested much yet, so the jury is still out on them.

Cheese I've had only two meals lately with small amounts of cheese, but given the problems I've had with milk, I assume this will be a problem. People who have had their gallbladder removed tell me that foods like pizza and ice cream can't be eaten too often without side effects.

Ice cream I have had a little bit of ice cream at night the last week, and while it hasn't caused any immediate problems, I have had gallstones pain when I wake up in the morning. Again, I drink a lot of water immediately, and the pain goes away.

Soda I used to be identified by always having a can of soda in my hand, but I've had very little soda in the last three months. I do mix some diet Sprite in with my water from time to time to get a different flavor, but the ratio is probably at least five parts water to one part Sprite. I have no idea how a full can of soda would do, and with the pain of intestinal distress still in my memory, I won't be going there any time soon.

Fatty meat Again, I don't eat much meat, so not eating it isn't a real problem for me, except for Gyros. I have had some small amounts of chicken, and haven't had any problems from it. I'll be trying some Gyros next week, and you can be sure I'll have a big bottle of water (and fiber) with me.

Tomato juice Because I don't like vegetables I used to drink a glass of low-sodium V8 juice every day to make sure I was getting some sort of vegetable intake every day. I haven't gotten back to this practice yet.

Spicy foods I love spicy foods. I could put hot sauce or jalapenos on just about anything. When I lived in Texas there was a place that made a "deathburger" — a hamburger with hot sauce, hot pepper cheese, and jalapenos, and I could eat those every day. Next to a daily cup of coffee, I miss spicy foods the most. I put some hot sauce on some rice yesterday and I seemed to get away with it, so I'll be trying that again soon. :)

Gallstones diet advice - update

It's now mid-August, 2010, and I've learned a few more things. First, because I lost so much weight so fast on a nearly fat-free diet, I started getting very light-headed and dizzy. In short, the doctors recommended that I try to get more fat in my diet, so I have added in more "good fats" by adding in Smart Balance butter, olive oil, 2% milk, and even a little low-fat ice cream. Again, you still shouldn't have much overall fat in your gallstones diet, but a ratio of 10-15% fat seems to be working just fine.

When I added some milk and ice cream back in my diet I also took a look at the bottle of Hershey's Chocolate that has been sitting still in my refrigerator for nearly four months now. Sure enough, it doesn't have any fat in it, so I've been adding a little bit of that to my ice cream to help satisfy my chocolate cravings.

Gallstones diet advice - summary

I'll keep updating my "gallstones diet advice" here as time goes on. While the doctors try to determine if something else is happening, there are no immediate plans to remove by gallbladder, so living with gallstones is the current plan.

Comments

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Wow I found this all so interesting and only wish that I had the chance to read this awhile back.
Im only 22 and had my gallbladder removed in may last year, after 2 attacks in 1 week, the 1st attack about 2am woke me up and scared the heck out of me, with panadol and water it went away, i was freaked but didnt want to wake up my flatmates incase it was nothing. A couple days later I had another attack, but still no idea what was going on, I thought I was having a heart attack (at 21 how could that be possible) the pain was in my chest and abdomen and radiated out into my back and shoulders (I do not wish this pain on anyone).
I was sent to emergency care and from there they did x-rays and all the fun things associated with hospitals, in the morning I had an ultrasound and sure enough 2 gallstones were present measuring 2.5cm each. I still had no idea what gallstones were, or what would happen or what it meant.
They said my only option was surgery, I didnt get a chance to try anything else, because I stayed in hospital until the surgery. Now its nearly a year on and unfortunately I was 1 of the very few that have complications after surgery, I couldn't eat anything without it going straight through me (at 22 and at uni this was no fun) this happened for a few months, now though after many visits to the GP and gastroenterologist I can eat anything due to a sachet that I have every morning called 'Colestid' that binds my bile.
The thing is the gall bladder attacks were the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life and I did not want to go through that ever again. Surgery for the removal of the gallbladder was my best option and now things are on the mend, I can still go out, I still drink though for some strange reason I cant drink vodka (I get the same gall bladder pain just in a mild form) and I can live normally.
So thank you everyone, your comments and stories have helped me.
Sorry for rumbling.
Aleisha

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Dear Alvin,

Reading your advice has been really helpful for me. I'm 32 weeks pregnant and found out I had gallstones this weekend after two excruciatingly painful attacks and a night in the hospital. My doctor tells me that a low fat diet will help, but seeing as I've never had to worry about my diet before, I had no clue what foods are low in fat and what aren't. Obviously eating healthier isn't a bad thing. My worry though, with reading other users' comments, is that I'll lose weight. Losing weight at this time is really unhealthy for me and my baby. I was a bit underweight when I got pregnant, and have steadily been trying to gain a healthy amount. Any advice on how to keep gaining weight while on this diet?

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Hi guys, sorry its been a long time but life got a bit busy. I finally had my gall bladder removed two days ago on my birthday...lol, yes after all this time they booked me in on my birthday but I was made to feel like the princess of the hospital. Anyway, woke up from surgery off my face and according to my son with a man voice, couldn't eat or move for ages, then slowly started shuffling off to the toilet to urinate...well that didnt happen, although I felt I had to go, nothing would come out. But once I broke that seal, I was up and down all night...lol, today I am finally up and waddling around, I have sore shoulders which I was told to expect and pain at the suture sites, I do feel like I have a broken rib though and have trouble taking deep breaths, I was told to try and breath deeply so I dont end up with a chest infection. My back is killing me but I think thats just from lying around, I was given a medical certificate for a week off work but I told my boss I will be taking two weeks off as I am on my feet at work. I have yet to go to the toilet from the other end. I have heard horror stories about this but Im sure all is normal so far. Anyway will keep you up to date with any other progress or set backs...

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Hi, I just discovered this blog and it's been a blessing!! My question - how long would an pain episode last? I had an attach on Weds. early morning and lasted about 7 hours...went to the doctor that afternoon and they did blood work and scheduled an ultrasound for Friday afternoon. I did not have much pain Thursday and Friday, but early Saturday morning pain has been round the clock. I have been taking pain pills every 3-5 hours. It is now Monday, July 4th and am hoping I can get thru the day...I talk to my doctor tomorrow to see results of tests. I have been scared to eat anything...any suggestions?
Debbie

In reply to by Debbie (not verified)

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I'm sorry, I don't know how long they usually last, as I pretty much quit eating after the first few days of pain. When it started I remember it lasting for hours, but never from one day to the next. Others might have a different experience. I remember drinking a lot of water helped me get through the pain faster.

Also, my apologies for not being able to keep up with all the comments here. I hope everyone that has had surgery is feeling much better these days!

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Well I met with the surgeon yesterday and he is scheduling surgery in two weeks. I just have to take the pain pills every 3-4 hours. I feel I have been pretty lucky in having surgery so soon! Hope everyone is doing well!

Good luck with the surgery Debbie! I'm sorry I didn't really answer your earlier question, but I would just try to stick with lowfat foods, and small/moderate amounts of food at any one time. For me, the fat was definitely the trigger that made the gallbladder upset.

I was still having pains a month after surgery since they ended up taking it out from my belly button! Now all the pain has subsided and I feel much better now! I am able to eat any thing I want but do notice that I get full very quickly which is due to my losing a lot of weight while I had the gallstones. I am also able to drink any thing I want as well. I didn't at first because I was nervous on how I would feel but it has the same affect on me with or without the gallbladder!!!!! Well, I wish everyone a speedy recovery if and when they have surgery! I am glad I finally went through with it!!

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hiya all i jus wanna say thaxs for all ur info last week i eat a chicken dinner and ended up in a&e i knew i had gallstones but my docter neva really sed anything boutmy foods up untill i was rushed in at 2 in the morning .
when i got to the hosp i was given loads of drugs to help with the pain wich in the end went after 4 days in hosp.
iv been told to change my diet and at the mo all i seem to be eatin is soups,banna,apples with water wich this is killing me as i love all food an used to eat and drink pop an chocolets everyday an a curry every thurs maybe a friday .
when i was at hosp they did a scan and the women was counting all in all 22 gallstones in my bladder witch has coursed it to go really thick it really put the shits up me lol and i dont ever wont to go throw this i am down to have them out as im still havin pain and nothing im doing is taking it away apart from strong pain killers an i dnt really wanna keep taking all the time HELP .

i have read alot of pages and a mate had passed me this site so thought id look it up there are lots to help me with but sum foods im worried to eat like cheese,currys,meats and what cake u can eat as doc has sed there are cakes out there i can eat also wot drinks apart from water an wot hot drinks so there are so many foods i dont understand i know the a woman is only aloud 70g per day and is not aloud anything ova 5g so if any of u have any more tips plz help me out on this as im a single mum of 2 who eats everything an anything an it really gets to me as im tryingnew things and they not of the age to understand ..

i tryed alcohol and i ended up in pain all nite so i wont be tryin that again .

anyway hope u all recover from this as i sure be glad to sort it good luck x

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OMG this site makes me feel part of a community of sufferers of gallstones. I have been suffering from gallstone pain too. I made two changes in my lifestyle prior to the start of my gallbladder problems. I started exercising ( i think it was too vigorous and so it took a toll on my gall bladder) and second I started taking Metamucil ( used to take dulcolax)since I suffer sever constipation especially in the winter despite drink 10 BIG glasses of water.I think i can rule out Metamucil as having caused my gallstones. After 2 months of 30 mins 5 times a week of vigorous exercise voila I suffer from gall stones. I am doing about 20 minutes of mild cycling since I now have a cholestrol problem (130). After reading all these comments I am going to say bye bye to hershey's chocolate nuggets which I have everyday. I suffer attacks after my single cup of coffee which I have every morning with 2% milk.I do not drink alcohol.I stopped fried egg omelette( I could weep over this since I can just literally live off eggs) I have completely stopped outside burgers (Burger King, MAcDonalds) I never was a big meat eater. And now I have stopped even the little bit of beef I consume occasionally at fast food places. Since I have a back problem I try to do some basic yoga moves and nothing too vigorous or difficult. i too had my appendix removed and since past 2 days I am experiencing pain in that area.

Glad to hear your surgery went well. Congrats on being gallstone free. can you please update on your workout procedures are going now post surgery ? Have you had any health problems now that you are without a gallbladder and working out ? Are you able to workout to the same intensity as before ?

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hi guyss!!

You all people have very encouraging stories about removal of GB....i have stones since 2010 and that time i had only two very minor stones and now i have several stones and the biggest one measures 1.00 cm......
i am using herbal treatments and using low fat diet which helps me a lot to prevent from attacks....in May 2012 i became so much well that i was able to eat anything i want but in small amounts.....but again i have pain between my upper blades on back side.....may be because i was unable to continue my low fat diet (cuz i love to eat).....i was getting weaker due to continues high fiber/low fat diet.
My herbal doc is not allowing me for removal and asking me to stick to the diet otherwise after removal i can get other complications (as he told me).....well i am 24 and now it is horrible for me to keep in constant pain some times sever and sometimes low but yes no attack again ( i got attacks in oct 2011 and jan 2012).......Constant pain on right side make me tired early and also i m unable to perform well on my job.

Please let me know how long i can take my GB without any complications ??? or is there any other treatment than operation???

Hi alvin,

love your article as it still had some new info for me. I've been living with my gallstones since December 2010, and so far have successfully avoided another attack and lost around 25 kilograms weight due to my version of the 'gallstone diet', which is very simple. Eat mostly fresh foods, and check ALL packaged foods for their fat content: they should contain less than 5g of fat per 100g. I even found some lean pork sausages that comply with this requirement! Other than that, I have low fat milk, and sometimes even sprinkled low-fat cheese (though the lowest is around 15g fat, so I only eat VERY little, on my part of the pizza, the rest is for my kids & hubby with normal amount of cheese). Chocolate: yes I do, but only dark and about the size of my fingernail, once or twice a day. Just enough to tickle my taste buds but too little to upset my gallbladder :-)

Overall, the stones have greatly improved my life health-wise, as I now eat and drink consciously. Therefore I've really become attached to my 'own body police' and decided not to part with them. They keep me on my toes!

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i have two small gallstones and i have been watching my diet to avoid surgery. I am unsure as to which foods I cannot eat, like one or two slices of pizza?? Also may I have a glass of wine now and then. I do want to avoid an attack and have been pretty good so far by eating the right foods and drinking plenty of water ,but like to know if the above is permitted occasionally.

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All your comments are so helpful. I had my first bout with my gallbladder 3 days ago. The bloating and pain is something else. This came from eating a BLT which is not my normal diet. I eat mainly vegetarian with a sprinkle of meat every now and again. I had my first piece of toast today ( spent 3 days on fluids) and so far I'm ok. I still have some tenderness, but no pain. I am going to try this natural remedy to dissolve the stones and try a flush down the road when I'm feeling stronger. I am wondering if anyone tried taking digestive enzymes to help with the bloating after eating.

I went out with friends recently on a going away outing. Knowing drinking would be involved I knew I had to watch myself. So I started out big with a Long Island. I sipped to start with for few minutes and waited on reaction...nothing. ok ordered another and drank it without any symptoms. Later that evening the table ordered shots...surely that would have done me in but I took the plunge anyway...and nothing happened. But by now I'm thinking this was gonna hit me hard at home or in the middle of night but to my surprise it never did nor later the following day. Maybe lucky but I was real careful leading up to that evening. Had a nice small meal early in the day. So I hope that helps. Thx

Sounds like a fun night. :) I don't remember having any problems with alcohol myself. I think it's mostly sugar, or ends up that way. But anything with too much fat in it -- bam!

Alvin... I came across your advice on gallstones here as I have had mild to moderate pain for a while now but I was so ALARMED at your usage of equal (Aspartame) .....!!! Please try to only add lemon or just a little sugar at times or use Stevia which is a natural sugar free substitute because Aspartame is a man made, toxic chemical which has been causing all kinds of awful sickness and symptoms in people. Please do your research and read a book called 'sweet poison' by Janet Starr Hull. Promise me you will try. Your habit of adding it to water makes you a prime candidate Alvin! Kind regards, Joanne from Australia. Xx

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I just came across this page while searching for "gallstones". I had my gb out in October 2008 and exactly 4 years to the day developed painful digestive symptoms that reminded me of how I felt before I had it out. It took me almost 2 months, many blood tests, ct scans and more before I realized the cause was most likely thickening bile (which can lead to stones). For those of us who have a tendency for stones, just because we have our gallbladder removed doesn't take away that tendency. All my GI dr could see from my tests was a slightly fatty liver.
However, after weeks of internet searches I discovered two very important things: eating beets thins bile and drinking a lot of water can help prevent gallstones and along with eating very little animal fat, and NEVER overeating, I'm now pain free. I also would warn anyone who had their gb removed because of stones: eat a healthy diet for the rest of your life. Don't think you can live on ice cream and fried chicken. I gained 30 lbs over the past four years because the doctors said I could eat anything! In the past two months I've lost almost 20 lbs and realize I have to be careful the rest of my life. I don't want a stone in a bile duct! (I had that happen during my gb surgery and needed an emergency ERCP). FYI I also had black pigment stones - so many they couldn't count them.
Bile thickening can start between 3 - 5 years after gb removal, so be aware.