Updated July 26, 2021
A clear liquid diet is a therapeutic diet often prescribed in hospitals by a registered dietitian or the attending physician.
A therapeutic diet is ordered as part of treatment for a disease or clinical condition to eliminate, decrease, or increase specific nutrients in the diet, or to provide foods the patient or resident is able to eat, such as a mechanically altered diet.
This article explains what a clear liquid diet is, why it’s prescribed, and provides a list of the foods and drinks allowed in this diet.
What is a clear liquid diet?
As the name implies, the clear liquid diet consists only of foods and drinks that are clear or transparent.
The diet is different than a full liquids diet, which allows dairy products like ice cream and milk.
Any foods or drinks that are liquid and translucent at room temperature are allowed on this diet, but you can’t eat solid foods.
The purpose of the diet is to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance while minimizing food residue in the bowel.
And because clear liquids are easily digested, this diet is also intended to keep the stomach and intestines rested.
Here are a few reasons the diet may be ordered:
- for gastrointestinal illness such as diarrhea, vomiting or diverticulitis
- to prepare for a surgery or procedure
- to reintroduce food slowly after a procedure
Many physicians may order a clear liquid diet before procedures like a colonoscopy or colorectal surgery, but research suggests a low-residue or low-fiber diet is better tolerated and associated with better outcomes (1, 2).
What you can have on the clear liquid diet
Foods and drinks allowed on the clear liquid diet include:
- water and ice
- translucent fruit juices without pulp (apple, cranberry or grape)
- tea or coffee with no added milk or cream
- clear soda (Sprite or Sierra Mist)
- sports drinks with no color
- nutrition supplements (Ensure Clear or Boost Breeze)
- flavored gelatin (Jell-O)
- broths (chicken, beef or vegetable)
- strained tomato or vegetable soup
- popsicle without bits of fruit
- hard candies (lemon drops)
This diet is designed only for the short-term because it’s nutritionally inadequate. As such, it shouldn’t be ordered for more than a couple of days.
People who have diabetes should consume around 200 grams of carbohydrates spread equally throughout the day in order to manage their blood sugar levels (4).
One-day sample clear liquid diet
Here is a one-day sample menu for the clear liquid diet:
- 1 cup (240 mL) of apple juice
- Jell-O pack
- 1 cup (240 mL) of coffee
- 1 can of lime soda
- 1 cup (240 mL) of strained tomato soup
- 2 cups (480 mL) of chicken broth
- 1 cup (240 mL) of water
- 1 cup (240 mL) of tea with 1 tablespoon (21 grams) of honey
- 1 cup (240 mL) of grape juice
- protein nutrition supplement like Ensure Clear
- 2 cups (240 mL) of beef broth
- 1 sports drink
- hard candy
The bottom line
A clear liquid diet consists only of clear foods and drinks that are liquid or partially liquid at room temperature.
It includes things such as coffee, juice, broth, Jell-O, and popsicles.
These items digest easily and require minimal work for your stomach and intestines to process.
For this reason, the diet may be ordered before surgery, certain medical procedures, or if you’re experiencing digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea.
The diet provides few calories and nutrients and shouldn’t be followed for more than a few days without an approved protein nutritional supplement.