If you’ve been reading into diet programs, you’ve probably come across what we call the clear liquid diet. The name itself probably got you thinking what it is, what it does, and whether you should give it a go or not. You might also be wondering if there’s an advantage to doing a clear liquid diet against other popular diets like low-carb, paleo, and keto.

Just like any diets, a clear liquid diet can be beneficial in many ways, but how do you know if it will benefit you? Read on to find out.

What is a clear liquid diet?

As the name implies, a clear liquid diet is a type of diet that focuses on the consumption of clear liquids (1). These liquids include broth, water, some juices minus the pulp, and even plain gelatin. The foods you consume leave no undigested residue in your intestinal tract - as in every bit is flushed away as soon as the body is done absorbing the nutrients. These foods may be colored, but if you can see through them, they count as clear liquids.

Typically, a clear liquid diet is medically prescribed before or after a medical procedure or if the patient has digestive problems. These procedures could be surgeries or a colonoscopy. It’s also prescribed for patients who may not be able to properly digest solid food or if they’re afflicted with nausea and vomiting after surgery.

Unlike many diets, medical professionals aren’t exactly keen on having a patient sustain a clear liquid diet unless there is a valid medical reason behind it. It normally lacks adequate nutrients and calories and is more of a medical-use only type of eating program.

How does a clear liquid diet work?

The main objective of a clear liquid diet is to keep you hydrated while allowing your body to absorb necessary nutrients for energy and daily upkeep. It’s also meant to prevent your stomach and intestines from working too hard especially after a medical procedure.

Non-medical uses of a clear liquid diet

While a clear liquid diet is utilized often within the medical space, some have used the premise of the diet and translated it to compare with other popular diets.

  • Weight loss. The most popular reason for doing a diet is because of weight loss. The fact that it helps with weight management isn’t far-fetched at all. Clear liquid diets are often low-calorie and do away with foods that are high in calories, but low in nutrient density. Some clear liquid diets may have a max range of 1,500 calories and a low of 500 calories per day. Compared to other diets, a 1,500 max calorie diet is definitely low and will cause weight loss.
  • Intestinal cleansing. You’ve probably heard the term detox or cleansing. At this point, who hasn’t? While the term is used in really loose ways, some who go on a clear liquid diet may feel effects that would be associated with cleansing and detox diets. These effects include having a “light” feeling, reduced bloating sensations, and easier bowel movements.
  • Resetting health. Sometimes people do diets to get back on track, particularly when they’ve done something that doesn’t exactly fit under the “healthy” category. A clear liquid diet may help people resume their healthy lifestyle by purposely avoiding solid foods that they recently already had too much of. 

How do I know if I should be on a clear liquid diet?

The sure-fire reason to be on a clear liquid diet is if your doctor told you so. Doctors wouldn’t prescribe a specific eating program or routine if you didn't need it. Otherwise, there really is no real reason other than the one we mentioned above.

However, some people want to experience some of the claimed benefits of a clear liquid diet. So, what exactly can a clear liquid do for you?

Benefits of a clear liquid diet

  1. Digestive symptoms relief. If you have a bad stomach or regularly experience stomach issues, then a clear liquid diet may help. What it does for you is the diet nourishes your body without having to work your digestive system too much. If you have stomach problems, the last thing you want to do is to overwork it and clear liquid diets may help ease the problems. 
  2. Reduces chronic inflammation. Clear liquid diets help an inflamed bowel to rest and heal. One of the many “side effects” of clear liquid diets is the lack of bowel movements, and this brief pause should help the body recover especially if they suffer from digestive issues like diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (2).
  3. Helps with weight loss. As discussed earlier, the most popular reason to try a clear liquid diet is for weight loss. Not only are clear liquid diet menus low in calories, but they can also be as nutritious as diets that have solid foods (3).
  4. Can help save time. Most of us spend 30 or so minutes on the toilet doing a no. 2. Some, even longer. This wouldn’t be a problem if you people weren’t in a hurry, but for most people 30 minutes is costly. Now, imagine if you have a perfectly valid and safe reason to skip no.2 a few days a week? What if you can use that 30 minutes to get more sleep or watch your favorite series? 
  5. Clear liquid diets will likely make you excrete more urine than normal, but the amount of time you need to do that will always be shorter than the amount of time excreting solids (4). 
  6. Makes you more picky with what you eat. Without question, a clear liquid diet is not for people who aren’t serious with their health. Not only does the diet deprive you of solid food, but it also forces you to be smart with what you eat, making sure each bite counts towards your nutritional needs without going over the caloric limit. This is why going on a clear liquid diet helps you be more educated with food labels and a food’s nutritional value.

What can you eat on a clear liquid diet?

Safe to say, the foods you’re allowed to eat on a clear liquid diet must be both liquid and clear. But, what are those foods?

Allowed

  • Broth
  • Nutritional drinks
  • Sodas (clear ones)
  • Soups
  • Plain black coffee
  • Hard candies
  • Honey
  • No-pulp juices
  • Lemonade
  • Plain gelatin
  • Popsicles
  • Sports drinks
  • Strained vegetable juices
  • Tea
  • Water
  • Carbonated versions of clear drinks

Depending on the type of clear liquid diet you follow, you may also be allowed:

  • Meal replacement shakes. Meal replacement shakes are all over the internet, with many of them mostly powdered forms of solid foods. They’re also typically lower in calories compared to the average meal and are designed to replace one or more meals per day. They are formulated to meet a person’s nutritional needs for optimum function. More often than not, these shakes are often used in many weight loss programs to make dieting easier to maintain and not as stressful.
  • Cleansing juices. These cleansing juices are often concentrated versions of vegetables or juices or simply plain old water fasting. The idea sticks close to what the clear liquid diet is all about, but these juices alone normally don’t have the nutritional content an average person needs every day.

Not Allowed

Sometimes, knowing what’s not allowed is easier than remembering foods you’re only allowed to eat. This is the case when it comes to the clear liquid diet. You only have to remember two things to make sure it fits your “allowed” food list (or if the food doesn’t fit that category): the food has to be clear and in a liquid or semi-liquid state at room temperature.

What does a typical menu look like?

Breakfast:

  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 glass fruit juice (no pulp)
  • 1 cup tea or coffee, plain
  • Honey or sugar if necessary

Snack:

  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 glass fruit juice

Lunch

  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 glass water
  • 1 glass fruit juice

Snack

  • 1 ice pop, no pulp
  • 1 cup tea or coffee, plain or a clear soft drink
  • Honey or sugar

Dinner

  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 bowl gelatin
  • 1 cup tea or coffee, plain
  • 1 cup fruit juice or water
  • Honey or sugar

Admittedly, a clear liquid diet looks really boring especially if you’re following the strictest form. However, be reminded this diet isn’t meant to be an everyday diet. You can do this everyday, but there’s no way you would be able to sustain it. Outside of medical reasons, the frequency of a clear diet should be good enough at once or twice a week.

The best reason is not just to make it more sustainable, but so you wouldn’t be deprived of some of the nutrients solid foods provide. It’s one thing to go on a “cleansing” diet, it’s another to run on half the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Risks of being on a clear liquid diet

This simple diet is not without risks. The problem is a typical clear liquid diet lacks calories and nutrients. This is why this type of nutritional program shouldn’t be voluntarily done for more than a few days at a time.

Then there’s the issue of whether you have diabetes or are pre-diabetic already. The food you eat must not exceed a certain amount of carbohydrates regardless of source. It’s way too easy to drink your carbs than to eat them, and therefore easier to consume too much of it.

There’s also the issue of constipation, as the diet is all but deprived of fiber content. You may find yourself barely using the toilet, but when you do, you might have difficulty in excretion.

A clear liquid diet is not for everyone

A clear liquid diet, when you do it right and sustain it for a few days, will definitely help you with your weight as well as give you relief from digestive symptoms. However, as with any diets, it’s just not cookie cutter. It may be a practical method to reduce caloric intake for some people, but to find this pattern of eating challenging is a normal hurdle.

It could be a worthwhile strategy if you find it relatively easy and practical in the context of your everyday life, but otherwise, it might be wiser to invest your time on a diet you can actually be consistent with. After all, you don’t need to be on a clear liquid diet if you’re just after weight loss or cleansing.

There are many diets out there you can try for those two and many of them have high success rates. If you’re also already leading a healthy lifestyle, this diet may not even have any visible effects on your body and instead may even weaken you.

If you still insist on doing a clear liquid diet, you are allowed to make it a part of your day, but not the entirety of it. A good example would be to instead of eating a high-calorie meal for lunch or dinner, why not consume clear liquid foods instead? That way, you gain some of the benefits of a clear liquid diet without the side effects of having cravings or possible nutrient deficiencies.

Regardless of the reason you chose to go for a clear liquid diet, you should always keep in mind that no one diet fits everyone, but also give each diet some time before you say it doesn’t work. While the science around clear liquid diets for health and weight loss is sound, if you find yourself struggling to go past Day 1 or Day 2, then perhaps this diet isn’t for you.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12149178

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30339950

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286674/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5521884/

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