What foods are in a liquid diet?

A liquid diet refers to a diet that consists of liquids only, or mostly liquids. Liquid diets are often prescribed prior to surgery or for people who have difficulty chewing or swallowing solid foods. They can also be used for short periods to give the digestive system a rest or help promote weight loss. There are different types of liquid diets, but they typically include juices, milk, broths, and nutritional supplements or shakes. Clear liquid diets contain only transparent liquids without any solids, while full liquid diets may also include strained soups and smoothies.

Why Do People Follow Liquid Diets?

There are several reasons why someone may follow a liquid diet:

  • Pre-surgery – Liquid diets are often prescribed 1-2 days before a surgery to help clear out the digestive system and prevent complications.
  • Difficulty swallowing – Some people have trouble swallowing solid foods due to conditions like dysphagia. A liquid diet makes eating easier and safer.
  • Digestive rest – Taking a break from solid foods can give the gastrointestinal tract a rest and allow inflamed or irritated tissues to heal.
  • Weight loss – Replacing solid foods with liquids can help reduce calorie intake and promote weight loss, especially in the short term.
  • Improved nutrition – People who are very ill or frail may get better nutrition from nutrient-rich shakes and smoothies than solid foods.

Following a liquid diet for more than a few days requires supervision from a doctor or registered dietitian to ensure nutritional needs are met.

Types of Liquid Diets

There are several types of liquid diets:

Clear Liquid Diet

A clear liquid diet consists of clear fluids without any particles. It is the most restrictive type of liquid diet and is usually only recommended for short periods of time.

Foods allowed:

  • Water
  • Clear broth
  • Popsicles without fruit or cream
  • Gelatin
  • Clear fruit juices without pulp, such as apple juice or white grape juice
  • Carbonated beverages like soda or seltzer
  • Clear tea or coffee without cream
  • Sports drinks like Gatorade

A clear liquid diet provides water and nutrients but is very low in calories. It is most often used as a preparation for medical procedures or to give the GI tract a rest.

Full Liquid Diet

A full liquid diet includes all items allowed on a clear liquid diet plus higher calorie beverages and thicker liquids.

Additional foods allowed:

  • Fruit juices with pulp
  • Vegetable juices
  • Milk and milk alternatives like almond milk or coconut milk
  • Meal replacement shakes and powders
  • Yogurt
  • Custards and puddings
  • Strained soups and cream soups
  • Ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt
  • Nutritional supplement drinks like Ensure or Boost

A full liquid diet provides more calories and nutrients than a clear liquid diet but is still not suitable for long term use. It is sometimes used after surgery until the person can tolerate soft solids.

Pureed or Blended Diet

A pureed or blended diet consists of nutritious solid foods that have been processed into a smooth, lump-free consistency. Foods are pureed to a pudding-like texture.

Foods allowed:

  • Pureed fruits and vegetables
  • Blended soups and stews
  • Smoothies
  • Pureed beans, tofu, meat, fish, or poultry
  • Oatmeal, cream of wheat, mashed potatoes
  • Custards and pureed desserts
  • Milkshakes
  • Yogurt

This type of liquid diet provides more balanced nutrition but requires planning to ensure all nutrient needs are met. It is sometimes used for people who have trouble chewing or swallowing but can tolerate some texture.

High Protein Liquid Diets

Some liquid diets are designed to provide extra protein for wound healing while restricting overall calories for weight loss. These diets are often prescribed after weight loss surgery.

Foods allowed:

  • Skim milk
  • Greek yogurt
  • Sugar-free protein shakes
  • Protein powder supplements
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Sugar free pudding
  • Clear broths
  • Sugar-free gelatin

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is important on high protein liquid diets to prevent nutritional deficiencies. This approach is not appropriate for long term use.

Sample Menu for a Full Liquid Diet

Here is a sample one day menu for a full liquid diet:


  • 1 cup cottage cheese, pureed
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup skim milk

Morning Snack

  • 1 Nutrition supplement drink (like Ensure or Boost)


  • 1 cup cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup pureed roasted squash
  • 1 cup skim milk

Afternoon Snack

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt


  • 1 cup pureed lentil soup
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1 cup pureed broccoli

Evening Snack

  • 1 cup vanilla pudding

This sample menu provides about 1600 calories with 80g protein, 180g carbohydrates, and 45g fat. Variety can be increased by using different pureed fruits and vegetables, creamy soups, protein shakes, and nutritional supplement drinks.

Key Nutrients to Include in a Liquid Diet

When following a liquid diet for more than a couple days, it’s important to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need. Some key nutrients to focus on include:


Protein is needed to maintain muscle mass and strength while dieting. Good liquid sources include:

  • Skim milk
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Protein powder
  • Meal replacement shakes


Carbs provide energy and fiber. Look for nutrient-dense options like:

  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Pureed fruits and vegetables like applesauce and mashed sweet potato
  • Oatmeal and cream of wheat
  • Beans and lentils


Fat helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins and provides energy and flavor. Choose healthier fats like:

  • Olive oil, canola oil, avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Yogurt and cheese
  • Milk and milk alternatives


Fiber promotes gut health and digestion. Add blended high fiber foods like:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Berries
  • Broccoli and greens
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds

Vitamins and Minerals

Since variety is limited on liquid diets, covering all of your vitamin and mineral needs through food alone can be challenging. Supplements or nutritional shakes are often recommended.

Tips for Following a Liquid Diet

Here are some tips to help you follow a liquid diet:

  • Sip fluids slowly – Drinking too quickly can lead to nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Have a schedule – Sipping small amounts throughout the day provides calories and nutrients in a steady stream.
  • Include protein – Protein is important to prevent muscle loss, so include a source with each meal.
  • Watch calories – It’s easy to drink a large number of liquid calories without feeling full. Be mindful of serving sizes.
  • Avoid concentrated sweets – Things like juice, soda, and sweet coffee drinks can cause GI issues.
  • Supplement if needed – Check with your doctor about supplements to fill any nutrient gaps.
  • Reintroduce solids slowly – When transitioning off the liquid diet, go back to solid foods gradually over a few days.

With planning and supervision, liquid diets can be followed for periods of time without compromising your nutritional status. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider.

Are Liquid Diets Safe? Risks to Consider

Liquid diets are safe for most healthy people in the short term but do come with some risks, especially if followed for longer periods without medical supervision. Potential risks include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies – Liquid diets provide less variety and fewer nutrients than a solid diet. Prolonged use raises risks for deficiencies in protein, fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and fiber.
  • Dehydration – Fluids alone may not provide sufficient hydration, leading to dehydration symptoms like dizziness, headaches, dry mouth, and confusion.
  • Hypoglycemia – Getting most calories from liquids can result in blood sugar spikes and crashes, causing hypoglycemia.
  • Gallstones – Rapid weight loss from very low calorie liquid diets has been linked to gallstone formation.
  • Electrolyte imbalance – Lack of solid foods can disturb electrolyte levels in the body, leading to muscle cramps and cardiac arrhythmias.

To limit risks, work with your doctor and follow their guidelines. Liquid diets lasting longer than 5-7 days require medical monitoring and supplements. Always reintroduce solid foods gradually. Seek immediate medical care if you experience fainting, irregular heartbeat, weakness, chest pain, or trouble breathing.

Should You Try a Liquid Diet?

Liquid diets can serve helpful purposes like preparing for surgery or easing swallowing difficulties. However, they are not meant for long-term use. Here are some things to consider when deciding if a liquid diet is right for you:

  • Unless medically prescribed, liquid diets should only be followed for brief periods of up to 5-7 days. Prolonged use without supervision risks nutritional deficiencies.
  • Avoid very low calorie liquid diets below 800 calories per day except under medical supervision. These can slow your metabolism.
  • Liquid diets often cause rapid initial weight loss, but the results are rarely sustainable. Most weight is regained once solid foods are reintroduced.
  • Liquid diets can help jumpstart a weight loss program but are not a substitute for sustainable, healthy eating patterns.
  • Check with your doctor before starting a liquid diet if you take medications, have diabetes, or have kidney, heart, or liver conditions.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid liquid diets unless medically prescribed, as their nutrient needs are high.

If you decide to try a liquid diet, use nutritious liquids like smoothies and incorporate some blended solids like yogurt or cottage cheese when possible. Work with a registered dietitian to create a balanced plan and make sure your needs are met.


Liquid diets can provide essential fluids, calories, and nutrients when normal eating is not possible. With medical guidance, they can be followed safely for short periods before procedures or to give the GI tract a rest. Liquid diets generally include water, juices, broths, milk, yogurt, and nutritional supplement drinks or shakes. Protein, carbs, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals should all be balanced when possible. Very low calorie or prolonged liquid diets should be supervised by a healthcare professional to prevent nutrition deficiencies and other health complications. While liquid diets can help jumpstart a weight loss program, long-term weight management requires a sustainable healthy eating pattern and lifestyle changes. When followed carefully under medical guidance and for short durations, liquid diets can serve a purpose – but whole foods and balanced nutrition should be resumed as soon as possible.

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