Overview of a Clear Liquid Diet

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
  • 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 or inhaling food into your lungs, while under anesthesia. Your healthcare provider 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.

What Can You Drink and Eat on a Clear Liquid Diet?
Verywell / Jessica Olah

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 the last resort for treating esophageal disorders. Disorders 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 healthcare provider's order to minimize your risk for complications. If you have a complicated surgery or longer healing time is expected, your healthcare provider 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

So what are clear liquids? If you have been told to follow this diet by a medical professional it is very important that you adhere to the diet properly to avoid complications. 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 milk, 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 (or other juices which contain pulp)
  • applesauce
  • pudding
  • coffee that contains cream
  • any solid foods such as pasta, vegetables, whole fruit, rice, etc.

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. Some healthcare providers recommend this since liquids containing red food coloring may make it more difficult to visualize blood.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hancock S, Cresci G, Martindale R. The clear liquid diet: when is it appropriate?. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2002;4(4):324-31. doi: 10.1007/s11894-002-0083-2

Additional Reading
  • Compass Group. (2013). Manual Clinical Nutrition Management.

  • Cameron, J.L., & Cameron, A.M. (2014). Current Surgical Therapy. 11th ed. Saunders:Elsevier. Philadelphia, PA.
  • Townsend, C.M. & Evers, B.M. (2010). Atlas of General Surgical Techniques. Saunders:Elsevier. Philadelphia, PA.