An all-liquid diet means that a person eats no solid foods and only consumes liquids, such as soups, juices, and smoothies. For most people, this is a temporary measure and not a long-term nutritional strategy. Solid liquids are different from clear liquids. On a clear liquid diet, a person can only consume clear liquids, such as water, tea, and broth. Whole liquids offer more flavor variety and greater nutritional value. One may be able to eat pureed versions of their favorite foods in addition to a wide variety of thicker liquids, such as tomato soup.
In this article, you’ll learn more about all-liquid diets, their possible effects, and what foods to eat.
Liquid diet: What to eat
The foods you should eat as part of a complete liquid diet depend on your nutritional needs and the recommendations of your doctor. A person may be able to consume the following foods:
– all foods that a clear liquid diet allows, including:
– some water
– fruit juices
– soup broth
– mashed fruits and vegetables
– strained or mashed soups
– baby food
– mashed oats
– protein shakes and other liquid dietary supplements
– margarine, butter and mayonnaise
It can be difficult to get enough protein and fiber on a complete liquid diet. People who follow this diet, especially if they do so for more than a few days, should focus on nutrient-dense foods.
Here are some examples of foods you can eat that offer more nutritional value:
– protein shakes with low sugar content
– fruit and vegetable smoothies
– soft egg products, such as eggnog or egg-based baby food
– mashed meats and beans
– mashed potatoes with meat sauce
It is advisable to ask your doctor for a detailed list of foods to eat and those to avoid when following a complete liquid diet.
Why do an all-liquid diet
Doctors generally recommend all-liquid diets as a short-term strategy when a person has a medical condition that makes ingesting solids unsafe.
They may recommend people follow an all-liquid diet in the following situations:
– when recovering from pancreatitis
– after weight loss surgery, as a transitional step between clear liquids and soft foods
– after dental or oral surgery, either to reduce pain or because the person is unable to chew
– after gastrointestinal surgery or to relieve symptoms of digestive disease
– after the loss of several teeth
– after a bone fracture in the mouth or jaw
– when a doctor or dentist puts a wire on the jaw.
Some people may also resort to liquid diets in an attempt to lose weight because an all-liquid diet makes it more difficult to consume a large number of calories. Very restrictive diets for weight loss are not safe and doctors do not recommend them. A person often regains the lost weight as soon as they return to a normal diet.
What to avoid
A person on an all-liquid diet should avoid solid foods, as well as pureed foods that may contain chunks.
Here are some examples of foods to avoid
– whole fruits and vegetables
– the bread
– the cereals
– soups containing large lumps or hard lumps
– solid meat or fish
– anything with seeds or other hard or sharp particles
– nuts and peanut butter
– ice cream with pieces
– cookies and cakes
For most people, a full liquid diet is a short-term measure. People who need to follow a full liquid diet for longer should be careful about the foods they eat and avoid potentially unhealthy options.
The following practices may be helpful
– avoid getting all or most of the calories from sugary foods, such as ice cream
– increase fiber intake by drinking thin smoothies made with fruits, vegetables and Greek yogurt
– try milk as a source of protein
– avoid foods with low nutritional value, such as popsicles and gelatin
– ask a doctor to recommend vitamin and mineral supplements
– keep a food diary to track changes in nutrients over time.
Liquid Diet Risks
It is very difficult to get enough nutrients from a complete liquid diet, especially over the long term. Liquid diets are generally low in vitamin A, iron, vitamin B-12 and thiamin. People who must follow a complete liquid diet for long periods of time may need to take supplements to avoid nutritional deficiencies. It is possible to get enough protein, fiber and other essential nutrients by following a complete liquid diet. However, this requires some planning and basic dietary knowledge.
People on this diet who are recovering from surgery may not have the energy or motivation to seek out healthy foods. One of the biggest risks is falling back on easy but less nutritious foods, like melted ice cream or broths high in sodium. Although a full liquid diet may satisfy a person’s cravings better than a clear liquid diet, following a full liquid diet can still be difficult and frustrating.
Besides malnutrition from long-term use, other risks include:
– chronic hunger
– mood swings due to hunger
– lack of pleasure in eating
– difficulty eating out or participating in other social activities that focus on food.
Although doctors may recommend a complete liquid diet for various conditions, some research suggests that this diet may be more restrictive than necessary.
A 2010 study, for example, found that a whole solid diet was safe for people recovering from mild acute pancreatitis and helped to shorten hospital stays.
A 2012 analysis concluded that a soft diet was also safe for people recovering from mild acute pancreatitis.
A person whose doctor recommends a complete liquid diet should ask questions such as:
– What can I do to stay healthy on this diet?
– How long should I follow this diet?
– What are the risks of this diet?
– Why do you recommend this diet?
– Is there an alternative to this diet?
– What specific foods should I avoid?
Following an all-liquid diet can be a challenge. If it is necessary to engage in an all-liquid diet for an extended period, one should consult a dietitian to ensure that she is getting enough vital nutrients. In many cases, a satisfying and nutritious diet can be achieved by pureeing foods that the person usually enjoys.
Oates, JR, & Sharma, S. (2019). Clear liquid diet.
Rajkumar, N., et al. (2012). Clear liquid diet vs soft diet as the initial meal in patients with mild acute pancreatitis [Abstract].