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I have gallstones. Is there a special diet to follow?

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Question: I have gallstones. Is there a special diet to follow?

Answer: There is no special "gallbladder diet" per se, but there are some diet modifications you should make that can help prevent more gallstones from forming. First, let me give you some background to help put my diet advice in perspective.

Your gallbladder, where gallstones form, stores and releases bile into your intestinal tract after you eat. Bile helps digest fat in you meals and it contains cholesterol, bile salts and other compounds.

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Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol and they form when bile contains too much cholesterol or the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough. If your gallbladder doesn't empty properly, bile can become too concentrated in cholesterol and gallstones can form.

It's important to maintain a healthy weight to prevent gallstones from forming. Studies show that as body weight increases, especially around the mid-section, so does the risk of gallstones.

If you do need to lose excess weight, do so slowly. Losing weight too quickly – more than 3 pounds per week – can increase cholesterol in bile and promote the formation of gallstones. Aim to lose weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Fasting and skipping meals can decrease gallbladder contractions and prevent it from emptying completely.

For safe weight loss, women should eat not not less than 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day and men no less than 1,800 calories. Of course, your current weight and activity level will dictate how many calories you need for safe, gradual weight loss.

You also need to get enough fibre in your diet. Eating more insoluble fibre from foods like wheat bran, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds helps prevent gallstones by reducing the cholesterol content of bile.

Just like too little fibre can increase the cholesterol content of bile, so can too much refined sugar. Look for places in your diet where you can cut back on added sugars. Limit soft drinks and other sweetened fruit drinks. Snack on whole fruit rather than sweets. Read labels too. If you eat breakfast cereal, choose a whole grain product with no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving.

Finally, if you aren't already doing so, gradually increase your exercise level so you are physically active 30 minutes each day. Regular physical activity can help prevent gallstones by increasing bowel motility and reducing cholesterol in bile.

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Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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