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Updated August 28, 2022
As the name implies, a clear liquid diet consists of only clear or transparent liquids.
Your doctor may prescribe the diet as part of a treatment or as a preparation for some procedures.
Beyond its medical uses, some people follow a clear liquid diet in hopes of losing weight.
This article explains everything you need to know about a clear liquid diet, including what the diet allows, whether it can help you lose weight, and provides a 3-day sample clear liquid diet menu.
The purpose of the clear liquid diet
A clear liquid diet consists of only clear liquids.
It’s different from a full liquid diet in that it limits thicker drinks and items like milk, pudding, and ice cream.
Your doctor may prescribe the diet if you are recovering from an episode of diverticulitis or pancreatitis (1).
In other instances, you may need to drink clear liquids in preparation for a colonoscopy.
Diverticulitis and pancreatitis
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of small pouches called diverticula that can form along your large intestine.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that secretes enzymes and hormones that help you digest food and regulate blood sugar.
The inflammation from both these conditions can cause severe pain, which can be worsened by eating solid foods due to the effort it takes your body to digest and absorb them.
Conversely, clear liquids require much less effort to digest and absorb, and you may tolerate them better.
This is because they contain very few proteins and fats and are made up mostly of easily digestible carbohydrates like sugars (1).
A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a doctor uses a scope to look inside your colon.
It’s commonly performed as a screening for colorectal cancer or to help diagnose other intestinal problems.
This is to clean the bowel and allow the doctor to view the intestinal lining without obstruction from food residue.
However, several studies have demonstrated that a low-fiber diet — containing less than 10 grams per day — is as effective as a clear liquid diet for ensuring the bowel is empty before a colonoscopy (3, 4).
Still, many doctors recommend a clear liquid diet before the procedure, especially for hospitalized patients.
SUMMARY: A clear liquid diet may be used while you are recovering from diverticulitis or acute pancreatitis. It’s also commonly prescribed before a colonoscopy to clear the bowels.
What is allowed on a clear liquid diet?
A clear liquid diet is very strict, allowing clear liquids only.
The diet doesn’t allow solid foods or semi-solid foods like apple sauce, oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, or mashed potatoes.
The items on a clear liquid diet can have color as long as they are transparent.
Examples of clear liquids include (1):
- water and ice
- translucent fruit juices without pulp
- tea or coffee with no added milk or cream
- clear soda
- sports drinks
- flavored gelatin, like Jell-O
- chicken, beef, or vegetable broths
- strained tomato or vegetable soup
- hard candies like Jolly Ranchers and Life Savers
If preparing for a colonoscopy, your doctor may have you avoid items that contain red or purple dye, such as certain flavors of Jell-O or sports drinks, because they can leave a residue in the bowel that may be mistaken for blood.
In either case, the diet helps maintain hydration, but it is nutritionally inadequate because of its strict limitations.
Because the items allowed on a clear liquid diet are low in protein, incorporating clear protein drinks or gelatin products will help you feel more full and make following the diet more tolerable.
SUMMARY: The clear liquid diet allows clear soda, broths, popsicles, coffee, and other transparent items. You shouldn’t follow the diet for more than a few days because it’s nutritionally inadequate.
3-day sample clear liquid diet menu
Here is an example of a three-day clear liquid diet with the inclusion of clear protein drinks and gelatin products:
- Breakfast: Premier Protein Clear Protein and black coffee
- Lunch: Jell-O pack and tea with honey
- Snack: popsicle and cranberry juice
- Dinner: beef broth and a sports drink
- Breakfast: Boost Breeze and tea with honey
- Lunch: strained tomato soup and lime soda
- Snack: apple juice and hard candies
- Dinner: chicken broth and a sports drink
- Breakfast: Gelatein 20 and black coffee
- Lunch: vegetable broth and sports drink
- Snack: tea with honey
- Dinner: Ensure Clear and a popsicle
SUMMARY: Include clear protein products like drinks and gelatin to boost your protein intake, especially if you must follow the diet for several days.
Can a clear liquid diet help you lose weight?
While not its intended purpose, a clear liquid diet can help you lose weight.
Due to its strict nature, the diet generally contains fewer than 1,000 calories.
With such few calories, it would be impossible to meet your nutritional needs without a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Even with a multivitamin and mineral supplement, the diet lacks important nutrients that help you stay full like fiber and protein (unless you consume several clear protein drinks or gelatin products).
Consequently, you’re likely to experience ravenous hunger along with fatigue and irritability after only a day or two from a lack of calories and nutrients.
That said, following a clear liquid diet is not a sustainable solution to weight loss.
For a safer and sustainable approach to weight loss, reduce the number of calories you consume by 500–750 per day (7).
This equates to approximately 1,200–1,500 calories per day for women and 1,500–1,800 calories per day for men.
SUMMARY: The clear liquid diet is not a safe or long-term solution for weight loss. Instead, if you’re goal is to lose weight, reduce your daily calories by 500–750.
The bottom line
A clear liquid diet restricts solid foods and allows only clear liquids such as juice, coffee, gelatin products, and broths.
Doctors often prescribe the diet as part of a treatment for conditions like diverticulitis and pancreatitis or as a preparation for procedures like a colonoscopy.
Because the clear liquid diet is very low in calories and contains inadequate nutrients, it’s not a safe or sustainable diet for weight loss.