Clear Liquid Diet: Uses, Guidelines, Tips

A clear liquid diet consists of liquids such as water, clear broth, and apple juice. These liquids are considered “clear” because they do not have any pulp, bits of food, or cream in them.

A liquid diet is often prescribed before certain medical tests or procedures. It can also be used before or after surgery on the gastrointestinal tract.

Clear liquid diets are meant to be followed only for a short time. They are not recommended for longer periods. A clear liquid diet is not meant to be used for weight loss.

This article explains why you might need to follow a clear liquid diet. You will also learn which liquids are considered “clear” and which are not.

Verywell / Jessica Olah

What Are Clear Liquids?

Clear liquids are see-through. They do not have any solids or pulp in them. Foods that melt into clear liquids at room temperature, like ice pops and gelatin, are also allowed on a clear liquid diet.

Liquids that are not see-through (opaque) are not allowed on a clear liquid diet. These liquids take more work to digest. They also leave behind some solid pieces of food parts, like fiber, in your large intestine. This is called a residue. If you have residue in your intestines, it can affect the results of a test or procedure.

Liquids Allowed

  • Water

  • Black coffee or tea (with only sugar, honey or lemon)

  • Clear fruit juices, lemonade

  • Clear sodas (eg, lemon-lime soda, ginger ale, seltzer)

  • Sports drinks

  • Gelatin (plain—no fruit or whipped cream)

  • Ice pops or fruit-flavored ice (no solid fruit)

  • Clear nutrition supplements (eg, Boost Breeze, Pedialyte, Ensure Clear)

  • Clear broth or bouillon

  • Clear candies (eg, lollipops, gummies)

Liquids Not Allowed

  • Fruit juices with pulp (eg, orange juice, grapefruit juice)

  • Nectars

  • Tomato or vegetable juices

  • Milk or plant-based milks

  • Ice cream or sorbet

  • Cream soups, soups with vegetables, noodles, or rice

  • Nutrition supplements that are not clear (eg, Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast)

  • Chocolates, candies that are not clear

  • alcoholic beverages

If you have specific health needs, some types of clear liquids might be better options for you. There might be some clear liquids that you will need to avoid. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Sugar-free liquids: Unless you are on a sugar-restricted diet, you should mostly choose liquids with sugar in them. The added sugar will provide you with calories. You need the calories to maintain your energy and blood sugar levels. However, if you have diabetes, ask your provider if you should choose low-sugar clear liquid options.
  • Low-salt (sodium) broth or bouillon: Salt is an important nutrient for your body. However, if you’re on a low-salt diet, ask your provider if you should choose reduced-sodium or unsalted broth or bouillon while you’re on a clear liquid diet.

Avoiding Certain Colors

If you’re doing a bowel prep before a colonoscopy, you might be asked to avoid any red, purple, or blue liquids. The dyes or natural colors in these liquids can make it look like there is blood in your intestines during the test.

Here’s an example: If you’re prepping for a colonoscopy, you might decide to have juice as one of your liquids. The instructions for the prep say that you cannot have any blue, red, or purple liquids.

That means that you could choose white cranberry or white grape juice. You could not have red cranberry or purple grape juice.

Some flavors of gelatin, ice pops, and nutrition supplements also have red, purple, or blue dye. Make sure you check the labels carefully.

Recap

Clear liquids are “see-through” and do not have any solids in them. Water and black coffee are two examples of clear liquids. Solids like gelatin or ice pops that are clear when they melt can also be OK on a clear liquid diet. However, you might be told to avoid certain colors, as they can affect test results.

Typical Day of Eating

Try to eat or drink on a regular schedule while you are following a clear liquid diet. This will keep you hydrated and not too hungry. Your body digests clear liquids very quickly, which means they won’t be as satisfying as a full meal.

Keep in mind that caffeine could make you feel jittery or affect your sleep. If you have a cup of black coffee in the morning, you could still have it on a clear liquid diet. However, you might want to stick to decaffeinated drinks later in the day.

Sample Menu

Here is a sample menu for a clear liquid diet created by the Mayo Clinic:

Breakfast

  • 1 glass pulp-free fruit juice
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup of coffee or tea (without dairy products)
  • Sugar or honey (if desired)

Snack

  • 1 glass fruit juice (pulp-free)
  • 1 bowl gelatin

Lunch

  • 1 glass fruit juice (pulp-free)
  • 1 glass of water
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin

Snack

  • 1 pulp-free ice pop
  • 1 cup coffee or tea (without dairy products) or a soft drink
  • Sugar or honey (if desired)

Dinner

  • 1 cup juice (pulp-free) or water
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup coffee or tea (without dairy products)
  • Sugar or honey (if desired)

Purpose of a Clear Liquid Diet

A clear liquid diet helps clear out the digestive system. Cleaning up prevents undigested food from affecting the results of certain medical tests.

A clear liquid diet can also be used to give the digestive system a “rest” after surgery or during flare-ups of gastrointestinal diseases.

A clear liquid diet might be recommended before or after you have a procedure, such as:

Sometimes, a clear liquid diet is recommended after a surgical procedure that does not involve the digestive system.

For example, if you have your tonsils out (tonsillectomy) it might hurt to swallow or chew food. Your provider might be recommended a day or two on a clear liquid diet as you start to heal.

You may need to use a clear liquid diet at times if you have certain medical conditions, such as:

A clear liquid diet can also help your gut rest and heal after you have an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea. For example, if you have the “stomach flu,” a clear liquid diet can help prevent you from getting dehydrated.

Recap

You may need to be on a clear liquid diet for a short time before or after a test or procedure like a colonoscopy. The diet can also help people heal from flare-ups of diseases like IBD or give the GI tract a chance to rest after an illness.

How Long Does It Last?

A clear liquid diet is very low in calories, protein, fat, and most nutrients. It is only meant to be used for a few days at most. You should not stay on a clear liquid diet for more than 3 or 4 days unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

Risks

A clear liquid diet is safe when you are under the care of a provider and you will only be on it for a short time.

Being on a clear liquid diet can have side effects and risks, including:

  • Feeling weak or dizzy
  • Not getting enough nutrients
  • low blood sugar if you have diabetes
  • Inaccurate test results (if you do not follow the diet)

A clear liquid diet can be a choking hazard if you have trouble swallowing (dysphagia, People with dysphagia have a hard time swallowing thin liquids.

Your healthcare provider or dietitian can talk to you about how to manage a clear liquid diet safely if you have dysphagia.

Tips

It can be challenging to stay on a clear liquid diet, even if it’s just for a day or two. Here are a few ways that you can make the experience easier:

  • Choose your favorite flavors of liquids (unless they are purple or red and you’ve been told to avoid these colors before a test)
  • Pick out different types of liquids for some variety
  • “Eat” your liquids regularly to keep yourself from getting too hungry
  • Distract yourself with activities and hobbies that are not food-related
  • Don’t overdo physical activity if you feel tired or weak

Recap

Even though you’ll only be on a liquid diet for a short time, it can be hard to stick with because it is not satisfying. You can make it a little easier by having liquids regularly throughout the day and distracting yourself.

Your body won’t get enough nutrition from a clear liquid diet, so you may feel more tired than usual. Don’t push yourself during this time, especially if you feel dizzy and weak.

Summary

You might be asked to follow a clear liquid diet before certain medical tests and procedures. It can also give the digestive system a chance to rest after an illness.

A clear liquid diet includes liquids that you can see through, like tea, black coffee, apple juice, and clear broths. Some flavored gelatins and ice pops are also considered clear liquids.

However, you might be asked to avoid certain colors if you are having a test like a colonoscopy. Red-colored drinks or gelatin can look like blood in the digestive tract.

A clear liquid diet is safe if your provider is checking in with you and you will only be on it for a short time. Clear liquid diets do not provide enough calories and nutrition for long-term use. They are also not intended to be used to lose weight.

A Word from Verywell

Being on a clear liquid diet can help prepare your body for a medical test or procedure. It can also give your body a break after you’ve been sick or had a flare-up of a disease.

If you are asked to follow a clear liquid diet, be sure to follow the instructions. While the diet is safe to be on for a short time, it can still cause some side effects. If you are having a hard time following the diet, or it is making you feel unwell, call your provider.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • What soups can you eat on a clear liquid diet?

    Soups you can eat on a clear liquid diet include meat or vegetable broths and bouillon that does not have any solid foods, creams, or thickeners in them.


  • Is a liquid diet suitable for weight loss?

    A clear liquid diet is not safe to use for weight loss. It is only meant to be used for a few days at most. A clear liquid diet is very low in calories, protein, fat, and most nutrients; it is not enough to keep your body healthy.


  • What is the difference between a liquid diet and a clear liquid diet?

    A clear liquid diet only lets you have liquids that you can see through, like apple juice and broth. On a liquid diet or full liquid diet, you can have thicker liquids like shakes and creamed soups.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.