What You Can Eat on a Clear Liquid Diet

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A clear liquid diet is a type of mechanically altered diet that includes only liquids without any pulp, bits of food, or other residue. They may have a tint (like strained orange or cranberry juice drinks), and they may be sweetened or a little salty, but you shouldn't see anything floating around in the liquid.

The premise behind a clear liquid diet is that these liquids are easy to digest and don't put much stress on your digestive system but still prevent your body from becoming dehydrated.

It's only to be used as a temporary diet. Usually, when a patient is ready to move up from the liquid diet, the next step is a full liquid diet, which is also pretty restrictive, but it contains a few more foods, most notably milk products like creamed soups and ice cream.

This type of diet may be recommended for a number of reasons—most notably in preparation for surgery or a procedure like a colonoscopy or due to a health concern like a bowel obstruction, or if you're having trouble chewing or swallowing foods.

The Clear Liquid Diet and IBD

The clear liquid diet may be prescribed if you're dealing with a serious flare-up of an intestinal condition such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Following a clear liquid diet can help a patient maintain hydration and get some nutrition until the flareup subsides. When a patient responds well to the clear liquid diet, it may be possible to switch to a full liquid diet for awhile, followed by soft foods or bland foods.

Patients with IBD flareups may have to  move through all these diets slowly in order to give the digestive system plenty of time to calm down.

Acceptable Clear Liquids

These fluids are usually allowed on a clear liquid diet, but you should check with your doctor to see if there are any additional restrictions.

  • Water
  • Strained fruit juice without pulp (for example, apple juice, white grape juice)
  • Lemonade (no pulp)
  • Fat-free, low sodium chicken/vegetable/beef broth
  • Bouillon dissolved in water
  • Flavored gelatin without any fruit or solids added to it
  • Coffee (no cream, but sugar may be OK)
  • Tea (no cream, but sugar may be OK)
  • Soft drinks (for example, ginger ale, 7 UP, and cola may be OK)
  • Popsicles that don't contain any fruits, ice cream, or sherbet
  • Sports drinks (for example, Gatorade)
  • Hard candies

You must avoid liquids that aren't clear, such as milk, cream, whipped cream, almond milk, soups (other than plain broth), and fruit juice or lemonade that has pulp. Avoid alcoholic beverages, as well.

Can I Have Coffee and Popsicles?

We know they're not technically 'see-through' but the diet includes more than water and clear soda. Other liquids that don't contain ingredients such as milk or any kind of solid food are also allowed. But basically the items allowed on this diet consist mostly of water and sugar or salt.

Coffee and tea are both allowed on the clear liquid diet as long as you don't add anything to them, like sugar, honey, milk, or coffee creamer.

Gelatin and popsicles aren't quite what most people would consider liquids either, but they are allowed on a clear liquid diet.

It's important to choose popsicles that don't contain anything like fruit pulp or seeds, or have a milk base. Gelatin is also allowed on the diet, but it must also be free of any fruit or other toppings.

You may have to be careful with gelatins or popsicles that have food coloring before undergoing certain tests, such as colonoscopies because ingesting certain colors might not be allowed. The red or orange colors are sometimes strong enough that they could transfer that color to the inside of the colon. Since the doctor needs to see the tissue inside the colon, the food coloring stains could mess up the test.

Sample Menu of a Clear Liquid Diet

While a clear liquid diet is a rather boring diet, it's only temporary. Here's a sample menu idea of what you can have.

Breakfast

  • One cup apple juice
  • One cup coffee
  • One dish flavored gelatin

Morning Snack

  • One cup apple juice
  • One popsicle
  • One glass water

Lunch

  • One cup tea 
  • One cup beef broth
  • One glass water
  • One dish of flavored gelatin

Afternoon Snack

  • One popsicle
  • One piece of hard candy
  • One glass water

Dinner

  • One cup chicken broth
  • One glass water
  • One cup tea
  • One dish of flavored gelatin

Nighttime Snack

  • One cup grape juice
  • One piece of hard candy

This is only an example menu. You can probably have more or less food, depending on your appetite, and your doctor's instructions.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that a clear liquid diet is not meant to be followed for more than a few days and is only advised under the guidance of your health care provider. Hopefully, you'll soon be able to switch to a full liquid diet, which contains a few more foods like creamed soups and ice cream. 

That being said, if you need to follow it for a longer period of time, your doctor may recommend adding low residue supplements or high-protein gelatin because a diet like this doesn't provide enough calories or nutrients.

With that, it's a good idea to keep track of the clear liquids you're eating in case your doctor needs to know.

Sources:

Maher AK. Simplified Diet Menu. Eleventh Edition, Hoboken NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, October 2011. 

Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute. Clear Liquid Guidelines.

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