Are Hospitals Making Us Sick? The Clear Liquid Diet

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Are Hospitals Making Us Sick: The Clear Liquid Diet | Real Food RN
I work in a hospital. This does not mean that I think everything that goes on in the hospital is health promoting. Not at all! Now don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for modern medicine with surgical intervention and emergency care, but I truly feel that we have missed the boat when it comes to prevention and disease management. Most often I see symptomatic management without considering the source of the illness. Band-aid medicine. It really frustrates me, and is what led me to go back to school for holistic nutrition. You can read more about my education HERE. I feel we are doing the general public a great disservice by not focusing on prevention. We are also doing a great disservice with the kind of care that is being given in the hospital. I would like to start with a particularly sore subject for me: hospital food.

Let’s begin with the basics of the hospital meal plans: the “Clear Liquid Diet

What is it? By definition: “A clear liquid diet is made up of only clear fluids and foods that turn to clear fluids when they are at room temperature. It includes things like clear broth, tea, cranberry juice, Jell-O, and Popsicles. This diet is easier to digest than other foods. It still gives you the important fluids, salts, and minerals that you need for energy. Eating only a clear liquid diet gives you enough nutrition for 3 to 4 days. It is safe for people with diabetes, but only for a short time when they are followed closely by their doctor.” (source)

What is included in the clear liquid diet?

You can have the following clear liquids:

  • Plain water
  • Fruit juices without pulp, such as grape juice, filtered apple juice, and cranberry juice
  • Soup broth (bouillon or consommé)
  • Clear sodas, such as ginger ale and Sprite
  • Gelatin (Jell-O)
  • Popsicles that do not have bits of fruit or fruit pulp in them
  • Tea or coffee with no cream or milk added
  • Sports drinks

What is the purpose of the clear liquid diet?

It’s a diet that requires very little effort from the digestive system. It is the first diet prescribed in the transition back to food, especially for someone who has had a gastrointestinal surgery or procedure. General anesthesia and narcotic pain medications can slow down the functioning of the bowels and it is best to introduce foods that are very basic and easy to digest. The reason why the liquids need to be clear are because dairy can create mucus in the digestive tract, which can lead to vomiting.

Now let’s take a closer look at the clear liquid diet…

1) Fruit Juice: the most common juices to chose from are: apple, orange, cranberry, and prune. Many of them also contain high-fructose corn syrup in their ingredient list and most are only about 10% juice — from concentrate.

2) Soup Broth: in the hospital setting we typically serve a broth that comes as a powder, from a small packet.

  • Here is the ingredient list for that broth: Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Chicken Fat, Cornstarch, Dried Chicken Meat, Yeast Extract, Dried Vegetables (Onion, Parsley), Sugar, Turmeric, Caramel Color, Spice, Disodium Inosinate & Disodium Guanylate, Tartaric Acid, and Citric Acid. (source)

3) Clear Sodas: I don’t think this needs much explanation, but soda is basically sugar water. Unless you get the diet flavor, then they are filled with artificial chemical flavorings.

4) Gelatin: what flavor would you like: red, green, orange or purple? No folks, you are not eating food — you are eating colors.

Again, here are the ingredients:  

  • Strawberry Jello: Sugar, Gelatin, Adipic Acid (for Tartness), Contains Less than 2% of  Artificial Flavoe, Disodium Phosphate and Sodium Citrate (Control Acidity), Fumaric Acid (for Tartness), Red 40.
  • Sugar-free strawberry jello: : Gelatin, Adipic Acid (for Tartness), Disodium Phosphate (Controls Acidity), Maltodextrin from Corn), Fumaric Acid (for Tartness), Aspartame (Sweetener), Contains Less than 2% of Artificial Flavor, Acesulfame Potassium (Sweetener), Salt, Red 40, Phenylketonurics (contains Phenylalanine). (source)

5) Popsicles: the popsicles allowed on the clear liquid diet cannot have fruit chunks or pieces in them. This means they are most often made from juice and sugar. But sadly, I have seen very few that actually contain real juice. The typical popsicle that I have handed out in the hospital does not have any real food ingredients at all!

  • Here is what they often contain: Water, Orange Juice (from Concentrate), Sugar, Carrot Juice, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Apple Juice (from Concentrate), Pear Juice (from Concentrate), Strawberry Juice (from Concentrate), Calcium Lactate Gluconate, Natural Flavors and Artificial Flavors, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Beet Juice Concentrate, Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Yellow 6, Red 40, Vitamin E Acetate. (source)

6) Tea or Coffee: I have yet to see an organic, fair trade coffee served in a hospital. This means the coffee typically served is loaded with pesticides, possibly mold, and is also probably made with chlorinated hospital water. Tea can also be full of pesticides, and a recent article explains that even the tea bags themselves can be full of junk!

7) Sports Drinks: basically flavored water with some electrolyte enhancement. They are often given fancy names such as “Glacier Freeze” and “Fierce Grape” but the flavors come from chemicals, not juice.

  • Here the basic ingredients: water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, gum arabic, color, ester gum, brominated vegetable oil (BVO).

Why are these ingredients bad? Let’s go over some of the worst offenders listed above:

  • High-fructose Corn Syrup: very hard on your body, and is now implicated in causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease! Even in children!!
  • Monosodium Glutamate: MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your [brain] cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more. (source)
  • Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil: during the hydrogenation process this becomes a trans fat. Trans fats are actually toxic substances for our cell membranes. When our cells contain an overabundance of trans fats, the cells become leaky and distorted. Without our cells intact, our bodies become diseased. What’s more, cottonseed oil may contain natural toxins and probably has unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues. Cotton is not classified as a food crop, and farmers use many agrichemicals when growing it. (source)
  • Adipic Acid: Almost 90 percent of adipic acid produced is used in the production of nylon 66. The nylon, which has a protein-like structure, is further processed into fibers for applications in carpeting, automobile tire cord, and clothing. Adipic acid is also used to manufacture plasticizers and lubricant components.Food grade adipic acid is used as a gelling aid, an acidulant, and as a leavening and buffering agent. (source)….and why is this in our food?
  • Aspartame: Dr. Mercola calls aspartame by far the most dangerous substance added to most foods today. Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death. Too much in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. (source)
  • Red 40This is the most-widely used and consumed dye. It may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice. It also causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in some consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. (source)
  • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): BVO was first patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant. The chemical is banned in food throughout Europe and Japan.(source) It is an endocrine disruptor and also competes with receptor sites for iodine in the body, which can lead to thyroid problems. It recently came to light how bad this additive is and now, thankfully, many companies are removing it from our food supply. Read THIS ARTICLE on the bad health effects associated with BVO and what is being done right now.

What can we do about this?

Well, right now if you want to do something immediately then have your family bring food in from home. Boycott the hospital food and tell them you do not want to eat that garbage. On a bigger level we can collectively boycott this food and suggest healthier alternatives. Write letters to hospital representatives, politicians, or anyone who has a hand in the hospital food production. Share this post….PLEASE!

Here are a few alternatives (aka Real Food) that your family can make up and bring for you:

1) Fruit Juice: just bring the real stuff, but it must be pulp free. Get a juicer (like this) and juice up a ton of fruits and vegetables. Not only will you NOT be drinking chemicals and coloring, but you will be getting boat-loads of nutrition! All of the micro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in that juice will help your body heal, not hinder the process. Bottoms up!

2) Soup Broth: Well, this one is easy for me because I make it every week: Bone Broth. Nuff said. This stuff is like the Mecca for healing! It costs pennies to make and does everything from healing your gut, to giving your body the minerals (in the correct proportions) that it really needs to heal. Read THIS ARTICLE on the benefits of bone broth. Go get a crock pot and cook some up! Here are some recipes: 

3) Clear Sodas: make up some delicious and nutritious fermented beverages (no, not beer or wine, silly goose!). These beverages contain tons of probiotics that are essential to healing, and are particularly important if you are on any antibiotics (which just about every post-operative patient is!). Try kombucha, water kefir, or homemade sodas. Just make sure you strain them before drinking. Naturally fermented beverages can contain yeast strands. You can find all of these in the refrigerated section at your local health food store, but it is much cheaper to make them at home. Here are some recipes: 

4) Gelatin: gelatin itself (the powder) has the same health benefits as bone broth. Gut healing, tissue restoring, and is also full of protein. You just need to buy the right kind (like this). Then you take this awesome gelatin and turn it into some delicious homemade jello! Again, if you use fruit juice in the recipes, make sure you either use pulp-free, or strain the juice first. Also, omit the fruit in the recipes. Here are some recipes: 

5) Popsicles: make your own from fresh juice, coconut water, or kombucha. Freeze these in molds (like these) and voila — healthy popsicles!

6) Tea or coffee: stick to organic, fair-trade coffee. For tea, use organic loose leaf tea if you can. Otherwise, there are a ton of organic teas in the market (check here)

7) Sports Drinks: my first line of defense here is coconut water. It’s natures Gatorade! Full of hydration, vitamins, and minerals! Plus, it’s all natural! Right off the tree to your lips. You can find it in your local health food store, or you can also find it HERE. Make sure you are getting the kind that is pulp-free, and also make sure that you are not buying coconut milk (that is not allowed on a clear liquid diet). Here are some other recipes:

Well, what do you think? Does this seem easy enough to you? Great! Together we can change the face of our modern medical model, one popsicle at a time! If you want to know more about WHY the above mentioned food ingredients (in the hospital food) are bad for you, I encourage you to check out Food Babe. This lady is taking the food industry by storm and is winning! Please support her efforts too. Vote with your dollar, if we don’t buy or eat the junk that the food industry sells then they will be forced to change their ways. They will have to make food that people will buy. Good food. Real Food.

I would love to hear your comments on this topic. Please feel free to comment below. 

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Are Hospitals Making Us Sick: The Clear Liquid Diet | Real Food RN

Learn More About Kate, Founder of Real Food RN

Hi! I'm Kate.

Registered Nurse. Mom. Real Foodie.

Welcome to Real Food RN! A blog with the mission to empower you to live your healthiest life possible, starting today.



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