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Dietary advice for patients with gallstones

Patient information A-Z

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small stones that can sometimes form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones are composed of cholesterol. Cholesterol precipitates into stones when the gall bladder empties less often or bile becomes supersaturated with cholesterol. Gallstones are more common as you get older. Obesity and pregnancy also increase the risk of developing gallstones.

How should I change my diet?

  • If you find any particular foods trigger your symptoms, you could trial avoiding them to see if this helps.
  • Try to eat regular meals, as fasting reduces gall bladder emptying which increases the risk of stones forming.
  • Eat breakfast soon after you wake up, as cholesterol concentrations are highest in bile produced overnight.
  • Some people find that following a low fat diet can prevent episodes of pain from gallstones, or make them less frequent. However, this is not necessarily the case for everyone.
  • If you are overweight, gradual weight loss can reduce the risk of developing gallstones. However, rapid weight loss (greater than 2 lbs or 1kg per week) may increase the chance of gallstone formation.
  • A low fat diet may be beneficial if you suffer with steatorrhoea (pale, yellow, orange or oily stools which may float or be foul smelling).
  • Your diet should not be completely fat free, a small amount of fat is needed by the body. You should try to choose low fat foods, but still eat a varied and healthy diet.
  • Try to eat plenty of fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables.
  • Base meals on starchy carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes) - including high fibre varieties where possible.
  • If you have a cholecystectomy (removal of the gall bladder) you should be able to tolerate all foods and can return to a normal diet.
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet, as outlined below, is beneficial for your general health. However, if you have lost a lot of weight or are underweight, following a low fat diet may make this worse. Please ask to speak to a Dietitian if this is the case.

Tips for eating less fat

  • Try buying low fat versions of foods e.g. foods labelled as ‘low fat’, ‘light’ or ‘diet’.
  • Check food labels and choose foods that contain less than 3g of total fat per 100g of food.
  • When cooking with oil try measuring out the oil you are using, instead of pouring directly from the bottle to the pan. You should use no more than one teaspoon of oil per person. If you use a non-stick frying pan you may find you do not need any oil at all, especially if you add moisture from other ingredients such as tinned tomatoes.
  • Try micro-waving, steaming, poaching, boiling or grilling instead of roasting and frying.
  • Take the skin off poultry and remove visible fat from the meat before you start cooking.
  • Food bought from takeaways or restaurants are generally higher in fat, therefore eating healthily will be more difficult if you choose to eat out.
Which foods should I eat?
Food group Low fat (good choices) Higher fat (should be avoided)
Fats Low fat (good choices) Use small amounts of low fat spreads or use spray cooking oil. Higher fat (should be avoided) Butter, margarine, lard, suet, olive oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil.
Dairy products and eggs Low fat (good choices) Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Low fat Yogurt or fromage frais. Reduced fat cheeses such as; cottage
cheese, low fat soft cheese, edam, half fat hard cheese. Boiled eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs (no butter).
Higher fat (should be avoided) Whole milk, evaporated or condensed milk. Cream, full fat yogurt, ice cream, full fat cheese. Fried eggs, scrambled eggs with butter
Fish Low fat (good choices) White fish e.g. haddock, sole, plaice, cod, whiting, prawns, tuna in brine/springwater. Higher fat (should be avoided) Oily fish e.g. sardines, mackerel, kippers, tuna in oil.
Meat Low fat (good choices) Lean meats and poultry. Higher fat (should be avoided) Fried or processed meats. Fat on meat, burgers, sausages, salami, meat paste or pâté, meat pies or tinned meat.
Pulses Low fat (good choices) Beans, peas, lentils. Higher fat (should be avoided)
Starchy foods Low fat (good choices) Bread, rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes Higher fat (should be avoided) Pastry, chips, roast potatoes, pasta in creamy/cheese sauces.
Fruit Low fat (good choices) Most varieties of fresh, frozen or tinned fruit. Higher fat (should be avoided) Avocado, olives.
Vegetables Low fat (good choices) All vegetables and salads. Higher fat (should be avoided) Roasted or fried vegetables, salads with dressings
Sauces Low fat (good choices) Ketchup, light mayonnaise, pickle, marmite, low fat or light salad dressings, salsa, tomato based sauces, white sauces made with cornflour and low fat milk, gravy made with stock cube and cornflour Higher fat (should be avoided) Salad cream, mayonnaise, salad dressings, white sauce, cheese sauce, creamy sauces, gravy made with fat or meat juices.
Puddings Low fat (good choices) Jelly, tinned fruit, meringue, sorbet, low fat milk puddings. Higher fat (should be avoided) Cakes, biscuits, milk puddings (unless skimmed milk), shop bought desserts, custard.
Miscellaneous Low fat (good choices) Sugar, honey, jam, golden syrup, marmalade, low fat hummus. Higher fat (should be avoided) Lemon curd, peanut butter, hummus.

What are the benefits of following this diet?

Some people find that following a low fat diet can prevent episodes of pain from gallstones, or make them less frequent. This leaflet outlines information which should allow you to follow a healthy, balanced and nutritionally adequate diet. Eating this way is also beneficial for your overall health.

What are the risks of following this diet?

There is a risk you may lose weight. If you are underweight or concerned about weight loss please contact the dietitians on the number below.

What are the alternatives to this diet?

You could choose not to make any changes to your diet. If you choose to eat high fat foods you may experience symptoms related to your gallstones such as pain.


Your dietitian is: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Telephone number: 01223 216655

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