Depending on what you have eaten, you can feel bloated, even if you haven't eaten a lot of food in one sitting or over the course of a day. Bloating -- a feeling of swelling in your abdomen, chest and hips -- can be caused by a digestive complication or a reaction to a food you ate. A diet high in dietary fiber and sodium can also cause bloating, even if you only eat a small amount of food.
Foods high in soluble fiber, such as beans, oat bran, fruits and vegetables, can cause gas and bloating during digestion. Soluble fiber, which binds with water in your digestive tract to create a soft, gel-like bulk, can produce gas as it is being broken down. While this may be uncomfortable, a diet high in dietary fiber has a lot of health benefits, reducing the risk of constipation and helping lower cholesterol levels. As most Americans do not consume the recommended intake of fiber, 25 to 38 grams per day, suddenly increasing your fiber intake can lead to bloating and gas. Because fruits, whole grains, legumes and vegetables are very high in fiber, eating even a small amount can lead to bloating and gas if you aren't used to a high-fiber diet. To reduce this chance, gradually increase your fiber intake to give your gut time to get used to the extra fiber.
A food intolerance is more common than a food allergy and can be triggered by a number of foodstuffs, ranging from the lactose in cheese to the gluten in wheat products. A food intolerance is a digestive reaction to a food, rather than an immune system reaction, which is a food allergy. Symptoms of a food intolerance include bloating and cramps, and the onset tends to be much slower than with a food allergy, often occurring hours after you eat the food. To diagnose a food intolerance, speak with a doctor, as the symptoms of a food intolerance -- as well as which food triggers the intolerance -- can be difficult to self-diagnose. To help your doctor diagnose a potential food intolerance, keep a food diary for one to two weeks to track what may be triggering the intolerance.
A diet high in sodium can lead to water retention, making you feel more bloated and puffy, especially in your face, hands and feet. The majority of Americans have a diet that is too high in sodium, largely because of processed and preserved foods, including fast foods and condiments. The recommended upper intake of sodium is 1,500 milligrams per day for those with a history of heart complications, who are over 50 and who are African American. For all others, the recommended upper limit is 2,300 milligrams per day.
Bloating can also be caused by digestive or gut disorders, as well as your general eating habits. Carbonated drinks or a tendency to swallow a lot of air while eating -- often because you eat or drink very quickly -- can lead to extra gas in your gut, which can cause bloating. Bloating can also be a result of more severe complications, such as an intestinal blockage or colon cancer. Irritable bowel syndrome affects how gas passes through your intestines, and bloating is a common symptom of IBS. To ensure that your bloating is not a result of an underlying gut disorder or disease, speak with a doctor.