What Are Clear Liquids?

Clear liquids
Clear liquids. Jack Andersen/Getty Images

Why A Clear Liquid Diet is Necessary?

Medical professionals use the term "clear liquids" to prescribe a specific diet intended to help manage a temporary medical condition. Conditions that commonly require a temporary clear liquid diet includes:

  • Before certain procedures or surgeries
  • Acute illnesses that cause abdominal pain and/or issues with proper digestion
  • After surgery - immediately post-operative during recovery of most surgeries, or up to several days for surgeries involving the esophagus or digestive system.

    It is always important to follow pre-procedure or pre-surgery instructions to have the best overall experience. If you are having surgery requiring anesthesia, a clear liquid diet prior to the procedure will minimize your risk for choking on food while under anesthesia. Your physician may also require a clear liquid diet if you are scheduled for an endoscopic procedure. This will help them to see more clearly during the tests. 

    ENT Procedures That Require A Clear Liquid Diet

    There are many standard surgeries related to the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) that require a clear liquid diet immediately after having general anesthesia. This is to reduce the risk of any complications if you accidentally swallow the liquid in the lungs while still drowsy. As you wake up, your nurse will quickly be able to advance your diet to solid foods and you will be able to eat normal foods after discharge. Examples of procedures that require general anesthesia and a normal recovery clear liquid diet includes:

    • myringotomy
    • sinus surgery
    • tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy

    While many procedures require a very short-term and temporary use of a clear liquid diet, there are other surgeries that require a longer term use of a clear liquid diet.This usually only lasts for about 1 day, however may be extended up to 3 or 4 days.

    This is used to help prevent any food related issues while the surgical site is healing. Surgeries that may require a clear liquid diet for about a day includes:

    In the case of myotomy, you will likely have a contrast esophagram to determine if there is any leaking of fluid at the surgical site. If there is not a leak detected, you will be started on a liquid diet. Esophagectomy or surgical removal of the esophagus is often a last resort for treating esophageal disorders. Disorder that may end up having an esophagectomy recommended in advanced stages include: esophageal cancer, jackhammer esophagus, and Barrett's esophagus.

    Typically you will be on a clear liquid diet for about a day and then will be advanced to a full-liquid or soft diet the day after surgery. This will be decided based on your progress following surgery and you should follow your doctors order to minimize your risk for complications. If you have a complicated surgery or longer healing time is expected, your physician may insert a feeding tube through your nose into or past your stomach and provide you with liquid tube feeding for a period of time.

    Clear Liquids

    The following foods and drinks are considered clear liquids:

    • water
    • ice chips
    • plain Jell-o
    • a popsicle made of flavored water or fruit juice (with no fruit or pulp in it)
    • black coffee
    • tea without cream
    • soda pop
    • soup broth (only liquid, no food items)
    • fruit juice that does not contain pulp such as apple juice
    • sports drinks like Gatorade
    • Pedialyte (electrolyte drinks for sick children)

    The following foods are not clear liquids:

    • milk
    • orange juice
    • applesauce
    • pudding
    • coffee that contains cream

    Also, some procedures may be even more specific than this. For example, prior to a colonoscopy, you may be told not to drink any red or blue liquids.


    Cameron, J.L., & Cameron, A.M. (2014). Current Surgical Therapy. 11th ed. Saunders:Elsevier. Philadelphia, PA.

    Compass Group. (2013). Manual Clinical Nutrition Management. Access on 2/20/2016 from http://bscn2k15.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/9/2/12924787/manual_of_clinical_nutrition2013.pdf

    Townsend, C.M. & Evers, B.M. (2010). Atlas of General Surgical Techniques. Saunders:Elsevier. Philadelphia, PA.