Article

What You Need to Know About Gallstones

Did you know? You may be at higher risk for gallstones depending on your age, gender and other factors. Read on to learn more about gallstones, what to eat to prevent them and what to eat if you need your gallbladder removed.

What is the gallbladder and what are gallstones? 

The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. Bile helps you digest fat. Gallstones are hard pebbles that can form in the gallbladder when bile hardens.

Am I at risk for getting gallstones? 

You may be at higher risk for gallstones if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are over the age of 60
  • Take cholesterol medication
  • Are pregnant
  • Use hormone replacement therapy
  • Use birth control pills
  • Are overweight, especially if you are a woman
  • Have diabetes
  • Have lost weight very quickly
  • Fast (go without eating for long periods of time)
  • Are Aboriginal

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Many people with gallstones will not have any symptoms. These “silent” gallstones do not affect how the gallbladder works. However, if gallstones block the passage of bile through the gallbladder, the increased pressure will cause pain and discomfort in the abdomen area. 

How are gallstones treated? 

If you have gallstones and are not having pain, gallstones are usually left untreated.  However, if you have pain, you will require treatment. The most common treatment for gallstones is surgery to remove the gallbladder.  Because the gallbladder is not an essential organ, people can live normally without it.

How can I help prevent gallstones?

  • Choose high fibre foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes (beans, peas and lentils). 
  • Enjoy 2-3 servings of lower fat milk products each day. Good choices include skim or 1% milk, yogurt (2% M.F. or less) and cheese (20% M.F. or less). Learn about serving sizes here.
  • Include 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives each day. Choose leaner meats. Remove skin from poultry. Try plant-based alternatives such as beans, tofu and lentils. Learn about serving sizes here.
  • Include 30-45 mL (2-3 Tbsp) of healthy fat each day. Healthy fats include non-hydrogenated margarine and canola, olive and soybean oils. Avoiding fat does not decrease the risk of gallstones.
  • Eat less sugar. Limit high sugar foods like sweetened beverages, desserts, chocolate and candy.
  • Enjoy unsalted nuts a few times each week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Have caffeine in moderation. This is about 3 cups of brewed coffee per day.
  • If you drink, have alcohol in moderation, no more than 1 drink per day.

What do I eat if I need my gallbladder removed? 

Before you have surgery, eat a healthy diet by following Canada's Food Guide unless your doctor gives you other advice.

  • Choose high fibre foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes (beans, peas and lentils). 
  • Enjoy 2-3 servings of lower fat milk and alternatives each day. Good choices include skim or 1% milk, yogurt (2% M.F. or less) and cheese (20% M.F. or less). Learn about serving sizes here.
  • Include 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives each day. Choose leaner meats. Remove skin from poultry. Try plant-based alternatives such as beans, tofu and lentils. Learn about serving sizes here.
  • Do not cut out all the fat from your diet. Limit the fat you use at the table and in cooking. Use only 30-45 mL (2-3 Tbsp) each day. Healthy added fats include non-hydrogenated margarines and canola, olive and soybean oils.
  • Limit high fat desserts and snacks like cookies, store bought baked goods and chocolate.

After you have surgery, go back to your normal diet unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Eat a moderate amount of fat.

When should I see my health care provider?

If you have gallstones, it’s important to speak with your health care provider if you have:

  • Abdominal pain lasting more than 5 hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Yellowish colour of your skin or whites of the eyes (called jaundice)
  • Dark urine or light-coloured stool

You may also be interested in

What you need to know about kidney stones
What you need to know about ulcers

Last Update – July 13, 2017

Mail Icon Phone Icon

If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.