How to Follow a Clear Liquid Diet

A clear liquid diet consists of liquids such as water, clear broth, and apple juice. These liquids are considered "clear" because they don't contain any pulp, bits of food, or cream. A liquid diet is often prescribed before certain medical tests, procedures, or before or after surgery that involves gastrointestinal tract.

Clear liquid diets are meant to be followed only for a short time. They are not recommended for weight loss.

This article explains why you might need to follow a clear liquid diet. It also explains which liquids are considered "clear" and which are not.

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

What Are Clear Liquids?

Clear liquids are see-through and don't contain any solids or pulp. Foods that melt into clear liquids at room temperature, like ice pops and gelatin, are also allowed.

Liquids that are opaque (not see-through) are not allowed because these require more work to digest and they leave a residue in your large intestine. The residue may interfere with a test or procedure.

Liquids Allowed
  • Water

  • Black coffee or tea (with sugar, honey or lemon only)

  • Clear fruit juices, lemonade

  • Clear sodas (e.g., lemon-lime soda, ginger ale, seltzer)

  • Sports drinks

  • Gelatin (plain, without fruit or whipped cream)

  • Ice pops or fruit-flavored ice (without solid fruit)

  • Clear nutrition supplements (e.g., Boost Breeze, Pedialyte, Ensure Clear)

  • Clear broth or bouillon

  • Clear candies (e.g., lollipops, gummies)


Liquids Not Allowed
  • Fruit juices with pulp (e.g., orange juice, grapefruit juice)

  • Nectars

  • Tomato or vegetable juices

  • Milk or plant-based milks

  • Ice cream or sorbet

  • Cream soups or those with vegetables, noodles, or rice

  • Nutrition supplements that are not clear (e.g., Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast)

  • Chocolates or other opaque candies

  • Alcoholic beverages

If you have specific health needs, some types of clear liquids may (or may not) not be recommended. These include:

  • Sugar-free liquids: Unless you are on a sugar-restricted diet (if you have diabetes, for example), you should mostly choose liquids with sugar in them. The added sugar will provide you with some calories or carbs. These can help to maintain your energy and blood sugar. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor if you should choose low-sugar options.
  • Low-salt broth or bouillon: If you're on a low-salt diet, ask your provider if you should choose reduced-sodium or unsalted broth or bouillon.

In some instances, such as for bowel prep before a colonoscopy, you may be asked to avoid any red, purple, or blue liquids. This is because these dyes can be mistaken for blood on a colonoscopy.

For example, white cranberry or white grape juice is OK, but red cranberry or purple grape juice is not. Some flavors of gelatin, ice pops, and nutrition supplements also have red, purple, or blue dye.

Typical Day of Eating

You should try to eat or drink on a regular schedule. This will keep you hydrated and not too hungry. Your body digests clear liquids very quickly, so they aren't as satisfying as a full meal.

Sample Menu

The Mayo Clinic offers this as a sample menu for a clear liquid diet:

Breakfast

  • 1 glass pulp-free fruit juice
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup of coffee or tea, without dairy products
  • Sugar or honey, if desired

Snack

  • 1 glass fruit juice (pulp-free)
  • 1 bowl gelatin

Lunch

  • 1 glass pulp-free fruit juice
  • 1 glass water
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin

Snack

  • 1 pulp-free ice pop
  • 1 cup coffee or tea, without dairy products, or a soft drink
  • Sugar or honey if desired

Dinner

  • 1 cup pulp-free juice or water
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup coffee or tea, without dairy products
  • Sugar or honey, if desired

Purpose of a Clear Liquid Diet

The purpose of a clear liquid diet is to cleanse the digestive system so that undigested food does not interfere with the results of certain medical tests. A clear liquid diet is also used to let the digestive system "rest" after certain surgeries or with certain diseases.

Some of the procedures or illnesses that may require a clear liquid diet include:

A clear liquid diet can also be used to give your stomach and intestines the chance to rest and heal from an illness that affects your gastrointestinal tract. If you have a stomach virus, following a clear liquid diet can help prevent dehydration, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Recap

There are several medical tests and procedures that require you to follow a clear liquid diet for a short period of time. These include colonoscopies, endoscopies, and bariatric surgery. This type of diet is also used temporarily in people with IBD or diverticulitis.

How Long Does It Last?

A clear liquid diet is very low in calories, protein, fat, and most nutrients. It is meant to be used for only a few days at most. You should follow a clear liquid diet for no more than three or four days, unless your healthcare provider tells you to stay on it longer.

Risks 

Clear liquid diets are safe when you follow them for a short time with your doctor's approval. Possible risks of being on this type of diet include:

  • Feeling weak or dizzy
  • Not getting enough nutrients (if you stay on it longer than recommended)
  • Low blood sugar (a concern if you have diabetes)
  • Inaccurate test results if you don't follow it exactly

A clear liquid diet can be a choking hazard if you have dysphagia. People with dysphagia have a hard time swallowing thin liquids. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can advise you on how to manage this if you need to go on a clear liquid diet.

Tips

A few ways you can make it easier to follow a liquid diet without "cheating" include:

  • Choosing your favorite flavors of liquids (unless they are purple or red and you've been asked to avoid these colors)
  • Mixing it up so you are not drinking the same thing over and over
  • Eating regularly so you don't get too hungry
  • Distracting yourself by doing activities and hobbies that aren't food-related
  • Not overdoing physical activity if you feel tired or weak

Summary

You may be asked to follow a clear liquid diet before certain medical tests and procedures. A clear liquid diet includes see-through liquids like black coffee, apple juice, and clear broths. Some flavored gelatins and ice pops are also considered clear liquids.

A Word from Verywell

If you are asked to follow a clear liquid diet before a medical test, or for any other reason, be sure to follow the diet instructions exactly. If you are having a hard time following the diet, or it is making you feel unwell, call your doctor for advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What soups can you eat on a clear liquid diet?

    Soups you can eat on a clear liquid diet include meat or vegetable broths or bouillon that don't contain any solid foods or thickeners (like cream).

  • Is a liquid diet suitable for weight loss?

    A clear liquid diet is not safe to use for weight loss. It is very low in calories, protein, fat, and most nutrients, so it's meant to be used for only a few days at most.

  • What's the difference between a liquid diet and a clear liquid diet?

    A clear liquid diet only allows clear liquids such as apple juice and broth. A liquid diet, often called a full liquid diet, allows you to drink thicker liquids, such as shakes and creamed soups.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
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. MedlinePlus. Clear liquid diet.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Clear liquid diet.

  3. Stanford Health Care. Clear liquid diet guidelines.

    1. Thorell A, MacCormick AD, Awad S, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care in bariatric surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) Society recommendationsWorld J Surg. 2016;40:2065. doi:10.1007/s00268-016-3492-3
  4. Forbes A, Escher J, Hebuterne X, et al. ESPEN guideline: Clinical nutrition in inflammatory bowel diseaseClinical Nutrition. 2017;36(2):321-47. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2016.12.027

  5. Swanson SM, Strate LL. Acute colonic diverticulitisAnn Intern Med. 2018;168(9):ITC65-ITC80. doi:10.7326/AITC201805010

  6. FightColonCancer.org. Colonoscopy prep: 8 expert tips for the night before