How to Follow a Clear Liquid Diet

Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on June 16, 2017Written by Erica Cirino

What is it?

A clear liquid diet is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a diet consisting of exclusively clear liquids. These include water, broth, some juices without pulp, and plain gelatin. They may be colored, but they count as clear liquids if you can see through them. Any foods that are considered liquid or partly liquid at room temperature are allowed. You can’t eat solid foods on this diet.

How does it work?

Doctors tend to prescribe clear liquid diets prior to certain medical procedures involving the digestive tract, such as colonoscopies. They may also recommend this diet to help relieve distress from some digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and diarrhea. It might also be used after certain types of surgeries. That’s because clear liquids are easily digested and help clean out the body’s intestinal tract.

On a clear liquid diet, the goal is to keep you hydrated while providing you with sufficient vitamins and minerals for energy. The diet is also intended to keep the stomach and intestines rested.

Clear liquids that are allowed include:

  • clear (fat-free) broth
  • clear nutritional drinks (Enlive, Ensure Clear)
  • clear sodas (regular and non-diet soft drinks such as Sprite, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola)
  • clear soups
  • coffee without milk or cream
  • hard candies (lemon drops or peppermint rounds)
  • honey
  • juices without pulp (apple and white cranberry)
  • lemonade without pulp
  • plain gelatin (Jell-O)
  • popsicles without fruit pulp or fruit pieces inside
  • sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water)
  • strained tomato or vegetable juice
  • tea without milk or cream
  • water

You should avoid foods not on this list. For some tests, such as colonoscopies, doctors recommend you avoid clear liquids containing red or purple coloring.

What does a day on the clear liquid diet look like?

Here’s a one-day sample menu for the clear liquid diet:

Breakfast

  • 1 bowl of gelatin
  • 1 glass pulp-free fruit juice
  • 1 cup coffee or tea without dairy
  • sugar or honey

Snack

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

Lunch

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

Snack

  • 1 pulp-free popsicle
  • 1 cup coffee or tea without dairy, or a soda
  • sugar or honey

Dinner

  • 1 glass pulp-free fruit juice or water
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup coffee or tea without dairy
  • sugar or honey

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • The diet is effective at helping you prepare for or recover from a medical test, surgery, or other medical procedure.
  • It’s easy to follow.
  • It’s inexpensive to follow.

Cons:

  • A clear liquid diet may make you feel tired and hungry because it lacks many calories and nutrients.
  • It can get boring.

Things to know before starting a clear liquid diet

If you’re prescribed a clear liquid diet prior to a colonoscopy, be sure to avoid clear liquids colored red or purple. These can interfere with test imaging. Your doctor will let you know if this is necessary.

Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes. If you do, a clear liquid diet should provide about 200 grams of carbohydrates spread equally throughout the day in order to help you manage your blood sugar. Monitor your blood sugar carefully and make the transition back to solid foods as quickly as possible.

Remember, the clear liquid diet is extremely low in calories and nutrients, so it shouldn’t be used for more than a few days. Always follow your doctor’s instructions when on this or any other diet plan.

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