Simple Investing: 7 Steps to Grow Your Wealth Safely

coins with a lightbulb on top, in nature

Ever thought about investing your money, but not sure where to start? You’re not alone.

About 39% of adults don’t have any stock investments, according to a recent Gallup poll.(1) The good news: It’s never too late to start.

Investing is one of the most effective ways to grow your wealth over time.(2) And it doesn’t have to be risky.

Investing can help you save for retirement, pay for your children’s education, take a dream vacation, and build long-term wealth.

With a few simple steps, you can get started on a path to financial growth and security.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is Investing?
Investing is putting your money into assets with the expectation that they will grow over time.

These assets can include:(3)

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Real estate
  • Mutual funds

Think of investing like planting a seed. It takes time for a seedling to develop roots, grow, and get bigger and stronger. Making smart investments can help grow your money over time, too.

Investing vs. putting money in a savings account
Investing helps your money grow faster than it would in a regular savings account.

While savings accounts offer some interest (average interest rate for savings accounts is 0.45%)(4), investments can provide much higher returns over time.

Investing also helps you build a financial cushion for future needs like:

  • Retirement
  • Emergencies
  • College tuition
  • Large purchases

Here are seven simple steps to help you start investing.

Step 1: Build an emergency fund
Before diving into investing, it’s crucial to have an emergency fund.(5)

  • This fund should cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
  • It acts as a safety net for unexpected expenses like medical bills or car repairs, so you don’t have to dip into your investments prematurely.

“Having a reserve fund for financial shocks can help you avoid relying on other forms of credit or loans that can turn into debt,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Step 2: Make use of employer-sponsored retirement plans

If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, make sure to take advantage of it, especially if your employer offers matching contributions.

  • 67% of private employers offer 401(k) retirement plans(6)
  • 92% of employers that offer 401(k) retirement plans match employee contributions(7)

Employer matches are essentially free money that can significantly boost your retirement savings. Contributing to these plans can also offer tax benefits, reducing your taxable income each year.

Step 3: Understand your goals and risk tolerance

Before you begin investing, it’s important to understand what you hope to achieve and how much risk you’re comfortable taking.

  • Are you saving for retirement, a child’s education, or perhaps a dream vacation?
  • Knowing your goals will help you determine the right investment strategy.

Generally, the closer you are to needing the money, the less risk you should take.

  • For example, if you’re planning to retire in 10 years, you might want a more conservative portfolio compared to someone who is 20 years away from retirement.

Step 4: Understand different investment options
There are various investment options, each with its own risk and return profile. Some of the most common investment options include:(8)

  1. Stocks: Buying a stock means owning a piece of a company. If the company performs well, the stock value increases, and you make money. However, if the company performs poorly, the stock value decreases, and you could lose money. Stocks can be volatile, but offer high growth potential.
  2. Bonds: Bonds are loans you give to companies or governments in exchange for periodic interest payments and the return of the bond’s face value when it matures. Bonds are generally safer than stocks but usually offer lower returns.
  3. Mutual Funds and ETFs: These are collections of stocks, bonds, or other securities. Buying shares in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) gives you exposure to a diversified portfolio, reducing risk compared to investing in individual stocks or bonds.
  4. Real Estate: This type of investment typically includes residential homes, commercial buildings, and land.(9) While economic trends can cause real estate values to fluctuate, real estate values tend to rise over time.

Step 5: Start small
You don’t need a large amount of money to start investing.

  • Employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement plans don’t have a minimum contribution requirement.
  • Many online brokerage platforms allow you to begin investing with small amounts, sometimes as little as $100.
    Start with what you’re comfortable with and gradually increase your investments as you gain confidence and knowledge.

Step 6: Diversify your portfolio
A diversified portfolio is like a well-balanced diet. It includes a variety of investments, which helps spread out risk.

  • This means not putting all your money into one type of asset, like stocks.
  • Instead, consider a mix of stocks, bonds, and perhaps some real estate or mutual funds.

Stocks can offer higher returns but come with higher risk, while bonds are generally safer but offer lower returns.

Tip: Mutual funds and index funds are great choices for beginners, because they pool money from many investors to buy a diversified mix of assets, which can reduce risk.(10)

A balanced mix of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds can help you weather market volatility and protect your investments.

Step 7: Adopt a long-term perspective
Investing is a marathon, not a sprint. The market will have ups and downs, but historically, it has trended upwards over the long term.

  • Avoid making impulsive decisions based on short-term market fluctuations.
  • Stay focused on your long-term goals and give your investments time to grow.

Secure your financial future with simple investing

Growing your wealth through investing doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. Following these seven simple investment strategies can help you achieve your financial goals.

Still have questions? Talk to a financial advisor for help based on your unique goals and circumstances.

References

  1. Gallup. (2023). What percentage of Americans own stock? From: https://news.gallup.com/poll/266807/percentage-americans-owns-stock.aspx
  2. Turner, T., et al. (2024). What is investing and how does it work? Annuity. From: https://www.annuity.org/personal-finance/investing/
  3. U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. (2024). Introduction to investing. From: https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing
  4. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (2024). National rates and rate caps. From: https://www.fdic.gov/resources/bankers/national-rates/index.html
  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (2024). An essential guide to building an emergency fund. From: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/an-essential-guide-to-building-an-emergency-fund
  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). 67 percent of private industry workers had access to retirement plans in 2020. From: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/67-percent-of-private-industry-workers-had-access-to-retirement-plans-in-2020.htm
  7. Miller, S. (2015). One in four workers miss out on full 401(k) match. Society for Human Resource Management. From: https://www.shrm.org/topics-tools/news/benefits-compensation/one-four-workers-miss-full-401k-match
  8. U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. (2024). Learn about investment options. From: https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/save-and-invest/learn-about-investment-options
  9. Folger, J., et al. (2024). The truth about real estate prices. Investopedia. From: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mortages-real-estate/11/the-truth-about-the-real-estate-market.asp
  10. Lockert, M., et al. (2023). How to invest in index funds: A guide for beginners. Business Insider. From: https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/how-to-invest-in-index-funds

Credit Score Check-Up: Here’s What This Magic Number Means

Credit Score cartoon graphic

What’s your credit score? If you’re thinking about borrowing money to buy a house, purchase a car, get a loan or sign up for a credit card, your credit score could be the deciding factor.

It’s kind of like a magic number that predicts your ability to borrow money.

If you don’t know your credit score, you could be in for a surprise, especially if you have a less-than perfect history of debts and paying your bills on time.

  • About 42% of adults who apply for a credit card or loan are denied because of their credit score.(1)

Maintaining a good credit score is crucial for financial health. If you don’t know your credit score or you haven’t checked it recently, it’s time for a credit-score check-up.

In this article, you’ll learn…

  • What your credit score means
  • Current trends in credit scores
  • Tools & resources to monitor your credit score
  • 4 tips to improve your credit score

Understanding your credit score

A credit score is a three-digit number that reflects your creditworthiness, based on your credit history.

It ranges from 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating better credit health.(2)

The score is calculated using several factors, including:

  • Your payment history
  • The amount of debt you owe
  • The length of your credit history
  • The types of credit you have, and…
  • Any new credit inquiries

Good vs. bad credit score

Most lenders review your credit score to evaluate your financial situation before giving you a loan.

In some cases, credit scores are also part of the application process to rent a house or apartment and get insurance.

So what’s a good credit score vs. a bad credit score? Here’s a breakdown:

  • 800 to 850: Excellent. People in this range are seen as very low-risk borrowers. They usually find it easy to get loans.
  • 740 to 799: Very Good. People in this range have a strong credit history and often find it easy to get more credit.
  • 670 to 739: Good. Lenders see people with these scores as acceptable or low-risk borrowers.
  • 580 to 669: Fair. People in this range are considered “subprime” borrowers. Lenders see them as higher risk, and they might have trouble getting new credit.
  • 300 to 579: Poor. People in this range often struggle to get approved for new credit. If you are in this category, you’ll likely need to work on improving your credit score before you can get new credit.

Current trends in credit scores

Wondering how your credit score measures up?

  • Current data shows that the average FICO credit score in the United States is 717, one point lower than a year ago.(3)

“This suggests that the effects of high interest rates and persistent inflation may be starting to weigh on consumers,” says Can Arkali, FICO Senior Director of Scores and Predictive Analytics, “especially those already struggling to manage their finances.”

Consumer behavior: 3 factors that impact overall credit scores

While your own credit score is the one that matters most to you, consumer behavior can impact credit scores, interest rates, risk level lenders are willing to take, and more.

3 factors that impact overall credit scores include:

  1. Payment history and default rates for mortgages, loans and credit cards
  2. Fluctuations in consumer debt balances
  3. Changes in applications for loans and credit cards

Check your credit score

Think you might apply for a loan or a credit card in the near future. Check your credit score.

Only 33% of adults check their credit score at least once a year.(4)

And that’s kind of a problem. Why? Identify theft and data breaches are on the rise.

Last year, identify theft reached an all-time high, impacting more than 353 million people with a potential loss of $12.5 billion.(5)

Fortunately, checking your credit score is easier than ever.

You can get a free annual credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • TransUnion

You can also check your credit score with apps, online tools and resources, like:

  • AnnualCreditReport.com
  • CreditKarma
  • Mint
  • NerdWallet

Additionally, many financial institutions offer free credit score monitoring as part of their services.

These tools can be incredibly useful for staying on top of your credit health and identifying potential issues before they become major problems.

4 tips to improve your credit score
If you want to improve your credit score or maintain a healthy credit score (670 or higher), follow these four steps…6

  1. Pay your bills on time. Your payment history is the most significant factor affecting your credit score. Ensure you pay all bills by their due dates.
  2. Reduce your debt. Keep your credit card balances low and aim to pay off high-interest debt first.
  3. Avoid opening too many accounts: Each credit inquiry can slightly lower your score. Be strategic about applying for new credit.
  4. Review your credit report regularly: Check for errors or fraudulent activity that could negatively impact your score.

Ready for a credit score check-up?
Your credit score is a critical component of your financial health. By understanding what it means, you can make sure this “magic number” works in your favor.

Sources

  1. Davis, M., et al. (2022). 42% of Americans Were Denied a Financial Product—Like a Credit Card or Personal Loan—in the Past Year Because of Their Credit Score. Lending Tree. From: https://www.lendingtree.com/personal/credit-scores-financial-products-survey/
  2. Equifax. (2024). What Are the Different Ranges of Credit Scores? From: https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/credit/score/articles/-/learn/credit-score-ranges
  3. Arkali, C. (2024). Average U.S. FICO Score at 717 as More Consumers Face Financial Headwinds. FICO. From: https://www.fico.com/blogs/average-us-fico-score717-more-consumers-face-financial-headwinds
  4. DeMarco, J., et al. (2020). Just 33% of Americans Checked Their Credit Reports in the Past Year, Down From Last Two Years. Lending Tree. From: https://www.lendingtree.com/credit-cards/study/americans-check-credit-reports/
  5. Insurance Information Institute. (2024). Facts + Statistics: Identify theft and cybercrime. From: https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-identity-theft-andcybercrime
  6. Federal Reserve Board. (2024). 5 Tips for Improving Your Credit Score. From: https://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/creditscore/creditscoretips_2.pdf

The Truth About Weight Loss Supplements

measuring tape next to assortment of pills

Can weight loss supplements help you lose weight?

Ask Dr. Google, and the search results will try to sell you a magic pill, supplement, or cocktail of products. After all, the weight-supplement industry is worth an estimated $60 billion in the United States alone. (1)

If you’ve just pulled out your credit card looking for a quick fat-loss fix wondering if this diet, pill or product will help you lose weight, here’s the simple answer.

It probably won’t. There’s no magic pill, weight-loss supplement or potion that can make excess pounds melt away.

But it’s a big issue for a lot of people. An estimated 74 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. (2)

The Quick-Fix Fat-Loss Failure

If you’re looking for a quick fix to lose weight, you might think taking a diet pill or supplement is all you need.

A lot of people do. In the U.S., an estimated 34 percent of adults have tried some type of weight loss supplement. Americans spend about $2.1 billion a year on weight-loss supplements in the form of tablets, capsules, softgels, and drinks. (3)

Most are made with ingredients that could improve metabolism or suppress appetite like:

  • Green tea extract
  • Chitosan
  • Guar gum
  • Conjugated linoleic acid
  • Caffeine

However, a recent study found that diet and weight-loss supplements typically fail to help people lose weight. (4)

Researchers looked at 315 weight-loss studies that put different supplements to the test. They found that most did not result in weight loss. And only a few tipped the scale in the right direction by just a few pounds or less.

Type-2 Diabetes Drugs Used for Weight Loss

Even with new weight loss medications originally used to manage type-2 diabetes showing some promise, the risk for negative side effects is high.

One recent study found that people using these weight-loss drugs have an increased risk for: (5)

  • Stomach paralysis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Increase heart rate
  • Suicidal thoughts

6 Lifestyle Habits for Healthy Weight Loss

Long-term weight loss and maintenance doesn’t come in pill or powder form. It’s a lifelong process. If you want to lose weight, skip the diet supplements, save your money, and adopt these 6 lifestyle habits to lose weight and keep it off:

  1. Eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. Avoid or limit sugary drinks, snacks, desserts, and candy high in calories.
  2. Be active. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days.
  3. Drink more water instead of soda, juice, energy drinks, or other sugary beverages.
  4. Practice portion control by counting calories, keeping a food journal, and being mindful of your food choices.
  5. Get your Zzzs. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Why? Lack of sleep alters levels of hormones (ghrelin and leptin) linked to hunger and cravings. And if you stay up late, you’ll have more time for snacking.
  6. Don’t give up. If you miss a workout or overeat, it’s not that big of a deal. Don’t use that as an excuse to overeat or skip workouts. Instead, just get back on track and keep going.

If you need extra help to lose weight:

  • Talk to your doctor
  • Join a weight-loss group for support
  • Ask your wellness coordinator for help, or…
  • Work with a trainer and dietitian

Getting help to develop a diet and exercise plan will help you tip the scale in the right direction and improve your overall health.

References

  1. Cadwallader, A., e tal. (2022). Which features of dietary supplemen industry, product trends, and regulations deserve physicians’ attention? AMA Journal of Ethics, 24(5):E410-418. From: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/which-features-dietary-supplement-industry-product-trends-and-regulation-deserve-physicians/2022-05
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Obesity and overweight. From: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
  3. National Institutes of Health. (2023). Dietary supplements for weight loss. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. From: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WeightLoss-HealthProfessional/
  4. Batsis, J., et al. (2021). A systematic review of dietary supplements and alternative therapies for weight loss. Obesity, 29(7): 1102-1113. From: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.23110
  5. Sodhi, M., et al. (2023). Risk of gastrointestinal adverse events associated with glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists for weight loss. JAMA Network. From: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2810542

Caffeine Addiction: 7 Healthy Ways to Curb the Cravings

coffee in ceramic cups

Ready to beat your caffeine addiction? If you’re used to starting the day with a cup of coffee, energy drink, tea or supplements loaded with caffeine, you’re not alone.

An estimated 90% of adults in the U.S. drink caffeine every day. (1) Caffeine may offer a quick pick-me-up. Caffeine has some downsides, too.

Ready to beat your caffeine addiction, or at least curb the cravings to improve your health?

Let’s start by answering a simple question: What is caffeine?

It’s a stimulant naturally found in coffee beans, cacao‌ and guarana. It’s also added to drinks and nutrition supplements. (2) The most common sources of caffeine include:

  • Coffee drinks
  • Sodas and energy drinks
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Guarana-based products
  • Supplements

How much caffeine is safe to consume?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends adults consume no more than 400mg of caffeine per day from all sources (drinks, food, supplements). (3)

Wondering how much caffeine you consume in a day?

Here’s how much caffeine is found in common drinks and supplements: (3)

  • Coffee: An 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95–200 mg of caffeine
  • Soda: A 12-ounce can of soda has 35–45 mg of caffeine
  • Energy drink: An 8-ounce energy drink has 70–150 mg of caffeine
  • Tea: An 8-ounce cup of tea has 14–60 mg of caffeine
  • Chocolate: A 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate has 10–20 mg of caffeine
  • Weight-loss supplements: Many weight-loss supplements contain caffeine, but the amount varies from 1–300 mg or more.
  • Caffeine tablets typically contain 100–200 mg of caffeine

What happens when you consume caffeine?

Everybody knows a shot of caffeine can be a quick way to boost energy and stay awake.

But what’s really happening when you consume caffeine?

There’s some short-term benefits, along with some less-than-healthy side effects:

Short-term benefits of caffeine

When you drink a cup of coffee, gulp down an energy drink‌ or take a supplement with caffeine, the short-term benefits are what keep most people coming back for more.

Consuming caffeine in small amounts can: (4)

  • Increase alertness
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Improve reaction times
  • Decrease appetite and support weight management
  • Improve mood and decrease depression

Consuming too much caffeine can have negative effects on your health, too. This can include: (4)

  • Increased anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Digestive problems
  • Consuming high amounts of caffeine can even be fatal
  • Note: For pregnant women, consuming more than 200mg of caffeine per day can increase the risk for low-birth weight and other problems during pregnancy.

Here’s what caffeine withdrawal looks like:

If you’ve been used to a daily dose of caffeine, your body and your brain start to expect it. Remember, it’s an addictive stimulant.

And if you call it quits on caffeine without a gradual reduction, there’s a good chance you’ll go through withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Fortunately, caffeine withdrawal symptoms are typically strongest the first few days after quitting. If you can make it through a week without caffeine, withdrawal symptoms typically subside.

6 Healthy Ways to Curb a Caffeine Addiction

Wondering how to curb your caffeine addiction to protect your health without major withdrawals?

Here are 6 healthy ways to curb caffeine cravings. (5)

  1. Track your caffeine consumption: Before you make any changes to the amount of caffeine you’re consuming, keep track of how much you’re consuming.
    • Remember, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting caffeine consumption to‌ or less than 400 mg per day.
    • Once you know what your caffeine intake looks like, you can create a plan to make some changes.
  2. Check food labels for caffeine content: Not sure how much caffeine is in your coffee, energy drink, chocolate, or supplements?
    • Read the food label. Many products made with caffeine include the amount of caffeine it contains in milligrams.
    • Can’t find it on the label? Chances are pretty good you can look up the caffeine content in drinks and products online, too.
  3. Cut back slowly:  If you want to lessen withdrawal symptoms associated with cutting back on caffeine, make your exit gradually. For example:
    • Drink one less cup of coffee per day.
    • Instead of an energy drink with high levels of caffeine, switch to a soda with less caffeine. Or only drink half an energy drink or soda.
  4. Drink more water: Before you gulp down a cup of coffee, energy drink, soda or other caffeine sources, make sure you’re drinking enough water.
    • For most adults, that’s around 64 ounces of water per day.
    • You may need more water if you exercise a lot, have a physically-demanding job, work in hot weather or live in a hot climate
    • Instead of supporting hydration, caffeine has the opposite effect of drinking water and increases dehydration and urination.
  5. Get your Zzzs:A lot of people reach for caffeinated drinks and supplements to combat tiredness and fatigue. But it’s really just a temporary fix if you’re not getting enough sleep.
    • Instead of relying on caffeine to get you through the day, get enough sleep. Here’s how:
    • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
    • Create a bedtime routine
    • Turn of all electronics and screens about an hour before bed
    • Stay away from caffeine late in the afternoon or evening
    • Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.
  6. Be more active: One recent study found that just 20 minutes of exercise has the same effect on mood, focus and memory as a cup of coffee. (6)
    • Start your day with 20 to 30 minutes of exercise.
    • Or if you’re feeling tired, take a walk instead of gulping down a caffeinated drink.
  7. Eat healthy foods: Skipping meals or eating sugary sweets and snacks can cause rapid changes in blood sugar levels.(6) This can impact mood and energy levels. Caffeine might be a quick fix, but there’s a better way:
    • Eat more nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds‌ and legumes
    • Whole and fresh foods take longer to digest and help regulate blood sugar levels better than sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates.

Ready to curb caffeine cravings and improve your health?

Cut back on caffeine gradually, and adopt these healthy lifestyle habits. You’ll feel better, have more energy‌ and be healthier.

References

  1. American Heart Association. (2022). Is caffeine a friend or foe? From: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/08/08/is-caffeine-a-friend-or-foe
  2. Harvard University. (2020). Caffeine. Harvard School of Public Health. From: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much? From: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  4. Walter, K. (2021). Caffeine and health. JAMA, 327(7): 693. From: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2789026
  5. Cleveland Clinic. (2023). How to quit caffeine without a headache? From: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-quit-caffeine
  6. Morava, A., et al. (2019). Effects of caffeine and acute aerobic exercise on working memory and caffeine withdrawal. Scientific Reports. From: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56251-y

Budget Basics: 10 Tips to Manage Your Money

coins with a lightbulb on top, in nature

Where’s your money going every month?

In a world where one-click purchases and instant gratification rule, managing your
money might not always be on your priority list.
An estimated 74% of adults have a monthly budget, according to a recent survey. (1)Yet, 84% report overspending.

Been there, done that?
You already know this: You can’t keep overspending forever. If you want to manage
your money better, creating a budget you’ll actually follow can help you now and years
from now.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to improve your financial habits, these ten tips
can help you take control of your budget and make your money work for you.

  1. Track your income & expenses: The first step in managing your money is knowing where it goes.
    • Track all your income sources and categorize your expenses.
    • Keep it simple. You can record what you spend in a notebook.
    • Or you can use apps or spreadsheets to keep track of how you spend your money.

    This is the best place to start. Why? Knowing how much you’re currently earning and
    spending is important data you need to create a budget.

    • Identify overspending. One recent study found that tracking your expenses is
      an effective way to identify overspending habits, and make adjustments to stay
      within a budget.(2)
    • Manual vs. automated expense tracking. Researchers also found that
      manually tracking your spending habits (in a notebook or spreadsheet) is more
      effective than automated tracking.

    “Automated tracking, with automatic collection of spending data through bank accounts
    or financial tools, is convenient but linked to lower attention and less financial
    self-awareness,” says lead researcher Dr. Yiling Zhang.
    “In contrast, active tracking through manual expense recording requires more
    engagement and is associated with higher financial self-awareness.”

  2. Create a budget: Once you have a clear picture of your financial situation, create a budget.
    • Allocate specific amounts for necessities like rent, groceries, utilities, and
      transportation.
    • Set aside funds for savings and discretionary spending.
    • Make sure your total expenses do not exceed your income. If it does, it’s time to
      look at ways to save money or increase your income.

    Want help creating a budget?
    Check out these free resources from the Federal Trade Commission:

    • Making a Budget
    • Budget Worksheet
  3. Prioritize saving: Pay yourself first. Treat savings as a non-negotiable expense.“Some people get the wrong idea when they hear the term, ‘Pay yourself first,’ says
    best-selling author, investor and entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki.3
    “They actually hear, ‘Treat yourself first.’ They think it means splurging on things
    frivolously. Instead, the purpose is to make a conscious and purposeful contribution to
    [save and invest].”

    • Aim to save at least 20% of your income, if possible.
    • This can be divided between an emergency fund, retirement savings, and other
      long-term goals.
    • Automate your savings to ensure consistency.
      How’s your saving habit?
    • In a recent survey, 44% of adults said they would have to borrow money to cover
      an emergency expense of $1,000 or more.(4)
  4. Reduce high-interest debt: High-interest credit cards, loans and lines of credit can derail your financial plans to get
    a loan for a house, car or something else.Prioritize paying off these debts as quickly as possible.
    There’s at least two ways to do this:
    The snowball method.

    • Focus on paying off your smallest debts first.

    “Once that smallest debt is toast, roll what you were paying into the next smallest,
    creating a snowball effect,” says best-selling author and financial advisor Dave
    Ramsey.(5)
    “It’s not about math. It’s about momentum and gaining quick wins. Before you know it,
    you’re knocking out debts left and right, building confidence and momentum like a
    snowball rolling downhill
    The avalanche method

    • Focus on paying off debts with the highest-interest rates first
    • You’ll need to review your debts and interest rates to figure out where to start
    • Credit cards, personal loans, or payday loans typically have high interest rates.
    • Home loans and student loans typically have the lowest interest rates.

    The cost of high-interest debt
    If you have high-interest credit cards or loans, how much are you paying in interest?

    • The average interest rate for credit cards is 22.8%.(6)
    • To put that in perspective, let’s say you only make the minimum payment on a
      $10,000 credit card balance. It would take you about 29 years to pay off the debt,
      and cost you about $19,000.
    • On average, credit card companies charge consumers an estimated $105 billion
      a year in interest.
  5. Cut unnecessary expenses: Review your spending to identify non-essential expenses that you can cut back on.This might include things like:
    • Cancel or downgrade subscriptions for things like streaming services, cell
      phones, software, gym memberships, or consumer goods. One recent survey
      found that consumers underestimate monthly subscription costs by $133.(7)
    • Dine out less often, and cook at home instead.
    • Limit impulse purchases. If you’ve done the work to track expenses and budget
      your money, you know how much you have (or don’t have) for impulse
      purchases.
    • Change your entertainment habits: Instead of paying for movies, concerts,
      theme parks, and shows, find less expensive alternatives you can enjoy.
    • Lower your energy bill by turning off lights, unplugging electronics, and using
      energy-efficient lights and appliances.
  6. Plan for major expenses:
    What are you going to do if your refrigerator fails, your car breaks down, or you’re hit
    with medical bills not covered by insurance?If you don’t have a financial plan to pay for major expenses, you could be in trouble.
    It’s not a matter of if you’re going to need money for a major expense, but when. And
    you can do something about it.

    • Anticipate and plan for large, irregular expenses like car repairs, medical bills, or
      vacations.
    • Set aside money each month in a designated fund for these costs.
      When something does happen, having money set aside will make the situation a lot less
      stressful.
  7. Use credit wisely: Credit cards and loans can be useful financial tools if used responsibly. Here are a few
    ways to keep your spending habits in check when it comes to credit:

    • Always pay your balance in full to avoid interest charges. Research shows that
      only 38% of adults pay off their credit card balance every month.(8) And that can
      get expensive (see #4 & the cost of high-interest debt).
    • Use credit cards for convenience and rewards.
    • Never spend more than you can afford to pay off each month.
  8. Build an emergency fund:
    An emergency fund is crucial for financial security.
    You can’t predict when something might happen that could impact your income, like:

    • Job loss
    • Injury or illness
    • Natural disaster or pandemic (An estimated one-third of adults lost jobs and
      income during the COVID-19 pandemic.(9)

    Having money set aside in an emergency fund will help you get through situations like
    this:

    • Aim to save three to six months worth of living expenses in a separate, easily
      accessible account.
    • If that sounds like a lot, start by saving for one month of living expenses.
    • This fund can cover unexpected expenses like job loss or medical emergencies,
      preventing you from going into debt.
  9. Review & adjust your budget regularly:Your financial situation and goals may change over time, so it’s important to review and
    adjust your budget regularly.

    • At least once a month, compare your actual spending to your budget and make
      any necessary adjustments.
    • This helps ensure you stay on track and continue to meet your financial goals.
  10. Get help from a professional:
    If you’re struggling to manage your finances, don’t ignore your money problems and
    hope they’ll get better on their own. Instead…

    • Get help from a financial advisor or debt management professional
    • Depending on your situation, it might make sense to talk with an attorney,
      accountant, or tax advisor, too.

    These experts can provide personalized guidance based on your specific situation and
    help you develop a long-term financial plan.
    Budget-friendly habits make a difference
    Here’s the big reason following a budget makes a difference…

    • Poor financial habits can strain relationships, increase stress, negatively impact
      overall health, and contribute to low satisfaction with life.(2)

    But it doesn’t have to be that way.
    By following these 10 tips, you can create a budget that works for you, reduce debt,
    build savings, and achieve greater financial stability.

References

      1. Marder, A. (2023). Most Americans Have a Monthly Budget, But Many Still
        Overspend. Nerd Wallet. From:
        https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/data-2023-budgeting-report
      2. Zhang, Y. (2023). Financial Self-Regulation: How Does Expense-Tracking Inform
        Financial Behaviors? Consumer Interest Annual, 69:
        https://www.consumerinterests.org/assets/docs/CIA/CIA2023/ZhangYilingCIA2023.pdf
      3. Kiyosaki, R. (2023). Always Pay Yourself First. From:
        https://www.richdad.com/pay-yourself-first
      4. Gillespie, L. (2024). Bankrate’s 2024 annual emergency savings report. From:
        https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/emergency-savings-report
      5. Ramsey. D. (2024). Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Peace.
        Thomas Nelson Publishing. From:
        https://www.amazon.com/Total-Money-Makeover-Updated-Expanded-ebook/dp/B0CLKZKW54
      6. Martinez, et al. (2024). Credit card interest rate margins at all-time high. From:
        https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/credit-card-interest-rate-margins-at-all-time-high/
      7. C+R Research. (2022). Subscription Service Statistics and Costs. From:
        https://www.crresearch.com/blog/subscription-service-statistics-and-costs/
      8. Backman, M. (2023). Only 38% of Consumers Pay Off Their Credit Card Bills in Full
        Each Month. From:
        https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/credit-cards/articles/only-38-of-consumers-pay-off-theircredit-card-bills-in-full-each-month-do-these-things-to-join-their-ranks/
      9. Hrynowski, Z. (2020). COVID-19 Disrupts 30% of American’s Jobs or Finances.
        From: https://news.gallup.com/poll/309299/covid-disrupts-americans-jobs-finances.aspx

Money Matters: 10 Health Risks Linked to Financial Stress

money with stress related text boxes

How’s your relationship with money?

Whether you’re just scraping by, or you have plenty of money, most people experience financial stress in one way or another. Left unchecked, financial stress can take a toll on more than your bottom line. It can take a toll on your health, too.

In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 66% of adults said money is a significant source of stress in their lives. (1) The money survey also found that:

  • 55% Money is a common cause of contention in relationships
  • 57% Frequently worry about having enough money to pay for basic things like food and rent
  • 43% Worry about saving enough money for future expenses
  • 56% Adjusted priorities and made different choices because of a lack of money

So what does financial stress have to do with your health?

More than you might realize. It’s no secret chronic stress is a risk factor for health problems. But what about financial stress?

In a recent study, researchers looked at the impact of financial stress on health.2 They found that money-related stress can weaken the immune system and increase the risk for chronic disease.

“We found that financial stress was most detrimental to biological health,” says University College of London researcher Dr. Odessa Hamilton.

“This may be because this form of stress can invade many aspects of our lives, leading to family conflict, social exclusion, and even hunger or homelessness.”

10 Health Risks Linked to Financial Stress

If you’re living with a constant stream of financial stress, it can take a toll on your bank account and your health, especially if you try and ignore the problem.

In fact, research shows chronic financial stress may increase the risk for:(3,4, 5)

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Heart disease
  4. Auto-immune disorders
  5. Chronic pain
  6. Headaches
  7. Digestive problems
  8. High blood pressure
  9. Muscle tension
  10. Early death

Feeling the weight of financial stress?

If you’re experiencing financial stress, doing nothing won’t help you change your circumstances.

But you can reach out for help from professionals to learn more about how to pay off debt, increase your income, create a budget, or access resources from your employee assistance program or government programs.

References

  1. Bethune, S., (2022). Stress in America. American Psychological Association. From: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/concerned-future-inflation
  2. Hamilton, O., et al. (2024). Immune-neuroendocrine patterning and response to stress. A latent profile analysis in the English longitudinal study of ageing. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 115:600-608. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159123003458?via%3Dihub
  3. Ryu, S., et al. (2023). The relationship between finnacial worries and psychological distress among U.S. adults. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 44(1): 16-33. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8806009/
  4. Evans, M., et al. (2020). Mental and physical health correlates of financial difficulties among African-American older adults in low-income areas of Los Angeles. Frontiers in Public Health, 8:21. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7028705/
  5. Hathcock, A., (2021). Mental well-being inherently connected to financial wellness. Purdue University. From: https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/purduetoday/releases/2021/Q1/mental-well-being-inherently-connected-to-financial-wellness.html

10 Smart-Money Tips to Improve Your Financial Wellness

piggy bank with dollar sticking out of the top

Whether you’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between, money is the leading cause of stress for most adults. And that’s a problem that can affect your health and your life.
People who have money stress are 19% more likely to have a heart attack.(1) Money matters are also among the top 10 leading causes of divorce and separation among couples.(2)

  • Stressed out about your bank account balance?
  • Do you panic a little just thinking about a car repair, college costs, or retirement?

That’s pretty normal for most people. But instead of just worrying, make a choice to do something about it. Take some time to assess your finances. Learn to make smarter decisions about spending and saving. And you’ll improve your health and your life.

In this article, you’ll learn 10 smart-money tips to help you improve your financial wellness.

5 simple habits for financial wellness

Want to be a millionaire? Researcher Dr. Thomas Stanley interviewed ordinary people with a net worth of more than $1 million to find out how they did it.3

His goal was to identify their habits and attitudes about money to create a formula for building wealth. But it turned out to be pretty simple:

  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Don’t buy overpriced cars, property, products, and services.
  • Save for a rainy day.
  • Learn to make smart investments.
  • Practice financial wellness consistently

How’s your financial fitness?

Wondering how to give your financial wellness a check-up?

It’s a lot like stepping on the scale, taking measurements, and giving your food choices an honest review to improve your health.

Once you know where you’re at and what you’re doing well, you can take action to improve. Take a look at this data on financial wellness and consider your own money matters. Did you know…

  • 36% of adults have no savings(4)
  • 19% of adults have less than $1,000 saved(4)
  • 45% of adults have $1,000 or more in savings(4)
  • 25% of adults rely on credit cards to pay bills(4)
  • The average credit card balance in the U.S. is $6,501(5)
  • That if you skipped buying a morning coffee (average price $4.90) every day and saved the money, you’d have $13,885 in 10 years.
  • 78% of adults live from paycheck to paycheck(6)
  • The average monthly car payment is $726 for new vehicles and $533 for used vehicles(7)
  • People in deep debt are three times more likely to experience fatigue, illness and mental health problems like anxiety and depression(8)

10 smart-money tips to improve financial wellness

How’s your financial wellness? If you’re looking for smart, actionable ways to improve your bottom line, here are some things you can do:

1. Spend less than you earn

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Take a closer look at where you’re spending your money. Find ways to save, like going out to eat less. For example, the average American spends about $3,000 a year on dining out. Could you use that money for something else?

Tip: Create a budget to help you spend less than you earn. It’s one of the best ways to help you reach your financial goals.

2. Pay off credit card debt

The average U.S. household has about $13,000 in credit card debt. If you paid the minimum every month and never charged anything else, it would take you more than 15 years to pay it off. Interest commonly ranges from 15 to 30 percent. Credit cards are usually the most expensive form of debt.

Tip: Pay off your balance every month, or at least plan to pay more than the minimum.

3. Pay yourself first

About 36 percent of U.S. adults don’t have any money in savings. And that’s a problem if you want to save for retirement or have money on hand in case of an emergency or unexpected expense.

Tip: Budget for saving a little money every month, just like you would to pay a bill.

4. Save a few months of living expenses

You can’t predict a job loss, illness, or injury that could put a stop to your income. But it happens to people all the time.

Tip: Set aside enough cash to cover six months of living expenses. Sound impossible? Start by saving enough to cover one month of living expenses.

5. Complete a will

This is a basic rule of financial wellness for all adults, especially if you have dependents. However, more than half of U.S. adults die without a will.

Tip: If you want to protect your family and financial assets, get help from an attorney to help you complete a will.

6. Ask an expert

Making big decisions about buying a home, investing, and saving for retirement can be tough to do on your own.

Tip: Get help from a financial planner to help you be informed. The decisions you make will affect your future.

7. Save for retirement

How much do you need to save for retirement? Census data shows that 46% of adults have no money saved for retirement. But need at least four times that to enjoy your senior years and cover medical costs.(9)

Tip: Start saving for retirement early. Take advantage of any tax-deductible contributions you can make through payroll deduction to grow your 401(k).

8. Plan for major expenses

Is buying a house, getting a new car, or sending a kid to college in your future? Set money aside to make those costs easier to handle.

Tip: Budget for insurance. Protecting your health, assets, and family is also an important part of financial wellness.

9. Keep on learning

Learn all you can about money matters. It will help you make better decisions about financial management, investing, spending, and saving.

Tip: You can also learn new skills that can help you increase your income.

10. Give your financial health a check-up

Review your credit report at least once a year. Take some time to evaluate your budget, debts, and investments. Review your goals. Adjust as needed to stay on track.

Making decisions about money isn’t always easy. But if you take the time to plan for financial wellness, you’ll be happier, healthier, and better off as you age.

Sources

  1. Swarup, S., et al. (2024). Cardiovascular consequences of financial stress: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Problems in Cardiology, 49(2): 102153. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0146280623005704
  2. Litner, J. (2022). The top 12 reasons for divorce. PsychCentral. From: https://psychcentral.com/relationships/top-reasons-for-divorce
  3. Stanley, T., et al. (2010). The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of American’s Wealthy. Lanham, M.D.: Taylor Trade Publishing.
  4. Bieber, C. Americans do not have enough savings. Here’s what you can do about it. Nasdaq. From: https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/americans-do-not-have-enough-savings.-heres-what-you-can-do-about-it
  5. Horymski, C. (20022). Average credit card debt increases 10% to $6,501 in 2023. From: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/state-of-credit-cards/
  6. Batdorf, E. (2024). Living paycheck to paycheck statistics 2024. Forbes. From: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/living-paycheck-to-paycheck-statistics-2024/
  7. Palasciano, A., (2024). The average car payments for new and used cars in 2024. Nasdaq. From: https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/the-average-car-payments-for-new-and-used-cars-in-2024
  8. Gillespe, L., et al. (2023). Debt and mental health statistics. Bankrate. From: https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/mental-health-and-debt-statistics/
  9. USAFacts. (2023). Nearly half of American households have no retirement savings. From: https://usafacts.org/data-projects/retirement-savings

Get Your Zzzs: 5 Tips to Fall Asleep Faster

clock snoring on blue background

You’re ready for bed… teeth brushed… pajamas on. But after you pull back the covers and get into bed, sleep doesn’t come quickly. You toss and turn. You count sheep. You drink a glass of warm milk. And you try to drift off to dreamland, but it isn’t happening. Sound familiar?

Do you struggle with falling asleep? If you don’t get enough Zzzs (7 to 8 hours is best), you’re not alone. Research shows 28% of adults in the United States are short on sleep.(1)  And that’s a problem.

Lack of sleep raises the risk for:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Mental health problems

A few changes to your bedtime routine and lifestyle habits can help you fall asleep faster. Here are five things you can do:

  1. Go to bed at the same time every night: And wake up at the same time every morning…even on weekends. A regular sleep schedule helps control your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up.(2)
  2. Create a sleep-friendly room: Ready for bed? Your room should be quiet, dark, relaxing, and just the right temperature. If it’s not, take a minute to make a few changes, before you get into bed.
  3. Turn off all electronic devices before bed: If you watch TV in bed, use a tablet, computer, phone, or play video games, you’re exposed to short-wavelength blue light. Research shows exposure to this type of light before bed makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Unplug from all electronics 30 minutes to two hours before bed. (3)
  4. Avoid large meals, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine: Why? Digesting a large meal before bed can keep you awake. Nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine make it hard to fall asleep. Avoid these a couple hours before bed to fall asleep faster.
  5. Be more active, just not right before bed: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. In a recent study, researchers found that regular strength training helped improve sleep quality by 42 percent.(4)  Go to the gym, lift weights, do bodyweight exercises, or take a fitness class to get stronger. A few simple changes to your daily habits can help you get to sleep faster and sleep better. And when you get enough sleep, you have a lower risk for chronic disease. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about other options to help you get your Zzzs.

References

  1. Adjaye-Gbewonyo, D., et al. (2022). Percentage of adults aged ≥18 who sleep <7 hours on average in a 24-hour period, by sex and age group—National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 71(10):393. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8912002/
  2. DiePietro, M. (2018). Circadium rhythm and sleep. American Sleep Association. From: https://sleepdoctor.com/sleep-disorders/circadian-rhythm-sleep-disorders/
  3. Wams, E., et al. (2017). Linking light exposure and subsequent sleep: A field polysomnography study in humans. Sleep, 40(12). From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806586/
  4. American Heart Association. (2022). Resistance exercise may improve sleep more than aerobic exercise. From: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/03/03/resistance-exercise-may-improve-sleep-more-than-aerobic-exercise

Testosterone Therapy? 5 Benefits of Treatment for Men

Adult man curling dumb bell

Ever wonder if testosterone therapy is right for you?

If you’re a man age 40 or older, here’s a simple self assessment.

  • Do you feel tired and fatigued often?
  • Do you feel depressed or irritable?
  • Are you losing hair and lean muscle mass?
  • Do you have erectile dysfunction or low sex drive?
  • Are you overweight or obese?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you may have low testosterone levels.

  • Beginning around age 40, testosterone levels in men drop 1 to 2% per year, which can lead to hair loss, fatigue, changes in weight and body composition, depression, and more.(1)

Experiencing any of the above symptoms? Instead of calling it a mid-life crisis and doing something wild, get your testosterone levels tested. The symptoms of low testosterone levels (also called hypogonadism), can often be treated by testosterone replacement therapy.2

Start with a check-up

See your doctor or specialist to get your testosterone levels tested to:

  • Assess your hormone levels
  • Discuss your symptoms
  • Evaluate your lifestyle habits
  • Determine if testosterone replacement therapy is right for you

5 Benefits of Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Research shows testosterone replacement therapy can help older men in a variety of ways, including: (3)

Higher energy levels: Many men with low testosterone complain of persistent fatigue and low energy levels. Testosterone replacement therapy can help alleviate these symptoms, leading to increased vitality and motivation.

Increased muscle mass & strength: Testosterone plays a crucial role in promoting muscle growth and strength. Men on testosterone replacement therapy may notice an increase in muscle mass and improved physical performance.

Better mood & well-being: Testosterone is known to have a significant impact on mood and cognitive function. Research shows that men undergoing testosterone replacement therapy may experience reduced irritability, improved mood, and better mental clarity.

Improved sexual function: One of the most noticeable benefits of testosterone therapy is an improvement in libido and sexual function.

Stronger bones: Testosterone contributes to bone density, and its decline can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis. Testosterone replacement therapy can help maintain and even improve bone health, reducing the risk of fractures and bone-related issues.

Risks associated with testosterone replacement therapy

Did you know an estimated 3 to 4% of men age 40 and older get testosterone replacement therapy?(4)

While more men are being treated for low testosterone levels, there are some risks with this drug therapy, including: (5)

  • Short-term risks for testosterone replacement therapy include acne, sleep apnea, swollen or tender breasts, swelling in the ankles.
  • Long-term risks associated with testosterone replacement therapy include increased risks for heart attack, stroke, prostate cancer.

Is testosterone therapy right for you? Ask your doctor. When administered under proper medical supervision, testosterone therapy can help men regain their vitality and improve their quality of life, making it an essential option for those affected by hormonal imbalances.

References

  1. LeWine, H.E. (2023). Testosterone: What it is and how it affects your health. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/testosterone–what-it-does-and-doesnt-do
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2022). Hypogonadism. From: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001195.htm
  3. Dos Santos, M.R., et al. (2020). Benefits and risks of testosterone treatment in men with age-related decline in testosterone. Annual Review of Medicine, 27(72): 75-91. From: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33217248/
  4. Kovac, J.R., et al. (2015). Patient satisfaction with testosterone replacement therapies: the reasons behind the choices. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11(2): 553-562. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946859/
  5. Harvard University. (2020). Is testosterone therapy safe? Take a breath before you take the plunge. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/is-testosterone-therapy-safe-take-a-breath-before-you-take-the-plunge

10 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Leafy Greens

shelves full of leafy greens

Take a look at smart-eating plans or diets. Leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, and cabbage are usually on the list of foods you should eat.

Mediterranean diet, check. Paleo diet, check. Keto diet, check. DASH diet, check.

Plus, recipes for leafy-green salads, smoothies, and side dishes are everywhere.

Why? Because leafy greens are good for you.

They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients. They’re low in calories. They’re affordable (unlike some diets that require buying expensive products).

You can add leafy greens to your diet with little to no prep time. And studies show leafy greens provide important health benefits such as: (1)

  • Reduce the risk for a heart attack or stroke
  • Lower the risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Control blood pressure
  • Improve bone health
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Prevent certain types of cancer
  • Improve bowel health
  • Control hunger and aid in weight management
  • Prevent age-related memory loss

Are you eating enough leafy greens?

Probably not. Most adults don’t eat enough leafy greens and other vegetables. In fact only 10 percent do. (2)

If you want to change your eating habits, improve your health, and feel better, eating more leafy greens can help.

The goal: Eat 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day, including leafy greens, like: (3)

  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beet greens
  • Watercress
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Endive
  • Bok choy
  • Turnip greens

9 easy ways to eat more leafy greens

Hungry for ways to eat healthier? Eating more leafy greens doesn’t have to be hard.

Check out these 9 easy ways to add more “green” to your diet.

  • Build a bowl – Add leafy greens to a burrito bowl.
  • Pizza topping – Use spinach as a topping for thin-crust pizza.
  • Breakfast of champions – Cook eggs or egg-whites with arugula
  • Splendid blended – Make a green smoothie with fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens
  • Dress up noodles – Add Bok choy to noodles
  • Soup’s on – Make soup that includes leafy greens
  • Munch n’ crunch – Bake your own kale chips
  • Dip it – Add spinach to homemade hummus
  • The classic – Eat more leafy-green salads

Want to be healthier, feel better, and live longer? Eat more leafy greens.

References

  1. Wang, D., et al. (2021). Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality: Results from 2 prospective cohort studies of U.S. men and women and a meta-analysis of 26 cohort studies. Circulation, 143:00-00. From: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996
  2. Lee, S.H., et al. (2022). Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations — United States, 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 71(1): 1-9. From: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7101a1.htm
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2021). Vegetables. MyPlate. From: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/vegetables

Food Additives: 5 Reasons to Rethink What You Eat

Spoon holding chemical powder with dice labeled "food additives"

What’s a food additive?
“Any substance used to provide a technical effect in foods,” according to the U.S. Food an Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates food additives. (1)
Food additives are used in a wide variety of foods to:

  • Preserve freshness
  • Enhance flavor
  • Make foods look more appealing
  • Create more ‘convenient’ foods with a longer shelf life

7 common food additives
Did you know the FDA has approved more than 10,000 food additives? (2)
You’ll find food additives in just about every kind of food product that goes through some form of processing to make. Some commonly-used food additives include: (3)

  1. Monosodium glutamate: Used to enhance flavors
  2. Artificial food coloring: Used to improve appearance and presentation
  3. Sodium nitrite: Used to cure meats and increase shelf life
  4. Guar gum: Used as a thickening agent
  5. High-fructose corn syrup: Used to sweeten food and drinks
  6. Artificial sweeteners: Used to sweeten foods and drinks with alternatives to sugar.
  7. Trans fat: Used to enhance taste and texture and increase shelf life.

9 hidden health risks of food additives
There’s hundreds of variations of these, and thousands of other additives used in food. You may be so used to eating foods with additives, you don’t even notice.
However, for some people, food additives can cause negative side effects like: (4)

  1. Headaches
  2. Allergies
  3. Digestive problems
  4. Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder
  5. Heart-related health problems
  6. Certain types of cancer
  7. Asthma
  8. Obesity
  9. Hormone imbalances

5 reasons to rethink what you eat
Sugar and salt have been used as food additives for a long time. But even these pose adverse health effects if consumed in large amounts.
Are food additives harmless or harmful? Here are five reasons to rethink eating foods that contain additives:

  1. Deceptive food appearance: Food additives are often used to make products look more appealing. Colorful dyes, like Red 40 or Yellow 5, are frequently added to candy, drinks, and other treats.
    • However, these artificial colors can be deceiving. When food appears more vibrant than it is, it can lead to unrealistic expectations and overconsumption. (5)
    • It’s essential to recognize that just because a food looks fantastic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier or better choice.
  2. Masking poor food quality: Another reason to be cautious about food additives is that they can be used to mask poor-quality ingredients. (6)
    For instance:

    • Some food companies might use artificial flavors and sweeteners to cover up the taste of subpar or low-cost ingredients.
    • This allows them to produce products that seem tasty but lack real nutritional value.
    • By relying on food additives, they compromise the overall quality of the food they sell.
  3. Food labels with mysterious ingredients: Reading food labels can be a daunting task, especially with the multitude of additives listed on each product.
    • Names like ascorbic acid or monosodium glutamate (MSG) may leave you more confused than informed.
    • These complicated names can make it challenging to decipher what you’re consuming and how it may affect your health.7

    The more additives in your food, the more confusing it becomes to maintain a balanced diet.

  4. Reducing natural flavors & healthy ingredients: Food additives often replace the natural flavors in foods. Instead of savoring the real taste of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, you become accustomed to the artificial flavors added to processed foods. That ever happen? This shift can lead to a diminished appreciation for fresh and whole foods.. Unless you only eat fresh, unprocessed foods, chances are pretty good some of the food you eat contains additives. Are they all bad? No. Just take a moment to read food labels, understand what’s in your food, and choose fresh and whole foods when you can.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). What is a food additive? Ask USDA. From: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-a-food-additive
  2. Maffini, M., et al. (2017). We are what we eat: Regulatory gaps in the United States that put our health at risk. PLOS Biology, 15(12): e2003578. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5737876/
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Food Additive Status List. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list
  4. Sambu, S., et al. (2022). Toxicological and teratogenic effect of various food additives: An updated review. Biomedical Research International, 6824909. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9249520
  5. Spence, C. (2019). On the psychological impact of food colour. Flavour, 4: 21. From: https://flavourjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13411-015-0031-3
  6. Neumann, N., et al. (2022). Added flavors: Potential contributors to body weight gain and obesity? BMC Medicine, 20: 417. From: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02619-3
  7. Cooper, K., et al. (2022). Exploring the readability of ingredients lists of food labels with existing metrics. AMIA Joint Summits on Translational Science Proceedings, 159-167. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9285159/

4 Surprising Reasons to Avoid Artificial Food Coloring

Cereal bowl with white text indicators displaying the food additives used

Add some salad dressing to a plate of leafy greens. Pour some milk on a bowl of cereal. Drizzle syrup on pancakes. Drink a soda or glass of juice. Eat some movie-theater popcorn. Top off a burger with ketchup, mustard or barbecue sauce.

Chances are pretty good you’ve done one or more of these before. Right? In moderate amounts, these foods might seem pretty ordinary.

But they all contain something that could have an impact on your health: (1)

  • Artifical food coloring.

It’s everywhere. Food manufacturers use artifical food coloring to enhances the appearance of food and make it more visually appealing. And it’s used in all kinds of foods like:

  • Cereal
  • Salad dressing
  • Syrup
  • Condiments
  • Candy
  • Drinks
  • Processed meats
  • And many other foods

The most common food colorings include: (2)

  • Blue 1: used in drinks, candy and baked goods
  • Blue 2: used in drinks and candy
  • Citrus red 2: used in some Florida oranges
  • Green 3: used in drinks and candy
  • Orange B: used in processed meats
  • Red 3: used in candy and baked goods
  • Red 40: used in drinks, candy, gelatins, pastries, and processed meats
  • Yellow 5: used in gelatins, candy and baked goods
  • Yellow 6: used in drinks, candy and baked goods

Unless you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet and only eating fresh ingredients, chances are pretty good you’re eating foods that contain artificial food coloring daily.

So what’s the big deal? New research suggests that artificial foods coloring may be linked to several health risks.

Check out these four surprising reaons you may want to avoid or limit artificial food coloring in your diet. Research suggests consuming foods that contain artificial food color may increase the risk for:

  1. Hyperactivity and behavioral issues: One of the most debated health risks linked to artificial food coloring is its potential to trigger hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children. Some research even suggests synthetic food dyes are a contributing factor to the rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved many food dyes with guidelines on how it can be used. (3)
  2. Allergic reactions: You could be allergic or sensitive to certain food dies. Allergic reactions to food dye can include: (4)
    • Skin problems
    • Hives
    • Itching
    • Digestive issues
    • Difficulty breathing

    Although these reactions are relatively rare, it’s one reason why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates synthetic food dye.

  3. Certain types of cancer: Some artificial food dyes have raised concerns about causing certain types of cancer. (5) For example, Red 3 (also known as Erythrosine) has been classified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). However, in small amounts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still classifies this as safe:(6) “Color additives are safe when used properly,” says Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. “There is no such thing as absolute safety of any substance.” “In the case of a new color additive, the FDA determines if there is ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm’ under the color additive’s proposed conditions of use.”
  4. Migraine headaches: Migraine headaches can be triggered by many different factors like:
    • Stress
    • Sleep patterns
    • Hormone imbalances
    • Weather
    • Light exposure
    • Alcohol consumption
    • And food.

    If you’re prone to migraines, certain artificial food colorings, such as tartrazine (Yellow 5), have been reported as potential triggers for headaches and migraines. “Processed foods with nitrites, nitrates, yellow food dyes, or monosodium glutamate can be especially problematic,” according to Harvard researchers.(7) While artificial food coloring may not pose any immediate health risks, there’s growing evidence that suggests eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods is healthier and safer.

References

  1. Akintunde, M., et al. (2020). Health effects assessment: Potential neurobehavioral effects of synthetic food dyes in children. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. From: https://oehha.ca.gov/media/downloads/risk-assessment/report/fooddyesassessmentdraft082820.pdf
  2. Centers for Science in the Public Interest. (2022). Artificial colorings (synthetic food dyes). From: https://www.cspinet.org/article/artificial-colorings-synthetic-food-dyes
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). Color additives in foods. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/color-additives-information-consumers/color-additives-foods
  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2020). Allergic to the fine print: Food allergy to additives, rare but real. From: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/allergic-to-the-fine-print-food-allergy-to-additiv
  5. Mishra, D., (2022). Food colors and associated oxidative stress in chemical carcinogenesis. Handbook of Oxidative Stress in Cancer: Mechanistic Aspects. From: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-981-15-9411-3_182
  6.  U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). How safe are color additives? From: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-safe-are-color-additives
  7. Godman, H. (2023). Top 7 reasons you have a headache. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/top-7-reasons-you-have-a-headache