What You Can Eat and Drink While on a Clear Liquid Diet

The Term "Clear Liquid" Is a Bit of a Misnomer

woman drinking ice water
woman drinking ice water. Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

A clear liquid diet consists of clear foods and beverages—such as gelatin, water, and broth—that contain no solids. It's intended to be an easy-to-digest diet that leaves no residue in your gastrointestinal system.

There are a few reasons that you may be asked to go on a clear liquid diet (temporarily). It's most common if you're preparing for or recovering from surgery, or preparing for some blood tests.

Below, find out what you can (and can't) eat and drink when following a clear liquid diet.

What Is a Clear Liquid Diet?

A clear liquid diet is a diet that consists of food and drinks that are clear, meaning you can see through them. The name "clear liquid" is a bit of a misnomer, though.

For instance, when you're on this type of diet, you aren't limited to colorless food and drink; the food or drink just can't have any solids in it. For example, milk is not a clear liquid; filtered coffee is (as long as you don't add milk or cream to it).

Also, although it's called a clear liquid diet, some solid-seeming foods are allowed. Gelatin and flavored ice (made from clear liquids) are allowed on this diet. They provide some contrast in texture during an otherwise repetitive diet.

Why a Doctor Would Recommend This Diet

The clear liquid diet is not intended for long-term use. As mentioned earlier, it is used in the short-term to help a person prepare for certain medical procedures (like surgery) and tests (such as blood work).

It can be very helpful if you are experiencing nausea and are having trouble keeping things down. It allows you to stay hydrated and take in some calories without taxing your digestive tract.

What foods are allowed on the clear liquid diet? There aren't too many, as it is a very limited diet, but remember that the diet is only temporary.

The following foods and drinks are allowed on the clear liquid diet:

  • Water
  • Clear juices (apple, cranberry, grape without pulp)
  • Clear, fat-free broth or bouillon
  • Sports drinks
  • Hard candy
  • Ice pops without any flecks of fruit or other texture
  • Tea or coffee without milk or cream (sugar or honey are okay)
  • Soda (any kind)
  • Strained tomato or vegetable juice
  • Strained lemonade
  • Flavored gelatin dessert (without fruit or cream added)
  • Jelly (without seeds)

Food That's Not Allowed on the Clear Liquid Diet

Everything that's not listed above should be avoided. You may get additional instruction from your doctor, too, depending on the reason for the clear liquid diet. For example, some colon tests require you to avoid red dye, which can color your intestine and make it hard to get a clear picture. For other conditions, you may need to avoid caffeine.

What You Can Eat After the Clear Liquid Diet Is Over

It's not always a great idea to go directly from eating a clear liquid diet to eating, say, a bacon cheeseburger and fries. You don't want to risk upsetting your stomach. Depending on why you were on a clear liquid diet, your doctor may suggest taking certain dietary steps next. For instance, if you still need to be on a liquid diet but can progress to solids, then you might be put on a full liquid diet.

Or, if you were experiencing nausea, but are ready to try solids, then you might be able to eat some plain foods, such as crackers or rice. Ask your doctor which guidelines are best for you and your condition. 

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