What You Can Eat on a Clear Liquid Diet

A clear liquid diet is a type of mechanically altered diet that includes only liquids without any pulp, bits of food, or other residues. 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 person is ready to move up from the liquid diet, the next step is a full liquid diet, which is also pretty restrictive but 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.

clear liquid diet options
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

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 flare-up subsides.

When a person responds well to the clear liquid diet, it may be possible to switch to a full liquid diet for a while, followed by soft foods or bland foods. Patients with IBD flare-ups may have to move through all these diets slowly in order to give the digestive system plenty of time to calm down.

Because a clear liquid diet cannot deliver adequate calories and nutrients, it should not be used for more than a few days.

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
  • No-pulp lemonade
  • Clear chicken, vegetable, and beef broth
  • Bouillon dissolved in water
  • Flavored gelatin without added fruit or solids
  • Coffee (no cream, but sugar may be okay)
  • Tea (no cream, but sugar may be okay)
  • Soft drinks (cola may be okay)
  • Popsicles that don't contain fruits, ice cream, or sherbet
  • Sports drinks
  • 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.

Precautions and Considerations

While gelatin and popsicles are allowed on a clear liquid diet, there are limitations. 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 must also be free of any fruit or other toppings. You may also need to be careful with gelatins or popsicles that have food coloring.

If undergoing a colonoscopy, you would need to avoid gelatin or popsicles with red, orange, blue, or purple food dyes as they can interfere with the test results. These include strawberry, raspberry, orange, black cherry, and grape flavors.

Green or yellow food dyes are generally considered safe.

Sample Menu

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 healthcare 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.

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