Clear Liquid Diets before Procedures

What is the purpose of a clear liquid diet before medical procedures?

A clear liquid diet is often used in gastroenterology in preparation for procedures (such as a colonoscopy) or before or after surgery that involves the digestive tract or intestines. Unlike other diets, it is not used for weight loss or for cholesterol management, and should only be done with the direction and supervision of a doctor. A clear liquid diet is easily absorbed into the body without leaving substance or residue throughout the digestive tract, allowing a physician to get a better picture of your esophagus, small or large intestines, or colon. It can also be used in the short-term for post-surgery diets, or occasionally when other digestive issues appear.

Clear liquid diets allow your digestive system to rest and reset, which can be important if Crohn’s Disease or diverticulitis symptoms are presented. Your body will naturally clear out any undigested food that remains in your system, but it will also be difficult to properly nourish your body. This is why clear liquid diets should never be a long-term solution.

The term “clear liquid” can be a little misleading, as some foods that are permissible are not technically clear. In this case, “clear liquids” are ones that you can see through or items that become liquid when left at room temperature. It is important to include a variety of options to maintain hydration and gain the most nutrients, fats, and vitamins while also working to keep your electrolytes up.

The following items can be considered for a clear liquid diet, but should always be cleared with your doctor first.

  • Water and/or ice (can be flavored or carbonated)
  • Black coffee (no creamer, milk, etc.)
  • Tea (can be sweetened or unsweetened, can add lemon juice)
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water)
  • Soda (Ginger Ale and Sprite)
  • Clear broth without any solid pieces or bouillon
  • Juice without any pulp
  • Lemonade, grapefruit, or orange juice (without any pulp)
  • Popsicles (without pieces of fruit)
  • Hard candy
  • Italian Ice
  • Honey
  • Jell-O

Red liquids and alcohol are not permissible.

Red liquids can disrupt the appearance of your digestive lining by leaving a red tint, and alcohol can cause dehydration or inflammation in the digestive system. Be careful to avoid these items prior to a procedure to avoid having to delay and reschedule.

Depending on the reason for your prescribed clear liquid diet, you may also have additional restrictions. For example, we ask patients to stop drinking anything XX hours prior to a colonoscopy. Be sure to ask your doctor for a list of restrictions specific to you and your needs.

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