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American Heart Month: A Guide to Heart-Healthy Nutrition

Article written by A4M on February 4, 2022. Read the original article, here

February marks the beginning of American Heart Month, during which healthcare organizations and providers spotlight the significance of public cardiovascular health and aim to raise awareness of risk factors, interventions, and disease prevalence. Today, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the United States, contributing to nearly 660,000 deaths each year. Although patient and provider education, medical care capabilities, and available therapeutics have expanded and improved over the years, the burden of heart disease persists.

While there are many known risk factors that can contribute to cardiovascular diseases – such as smoking, hypertension, obesity, and alcohol use – certain variables are easily modifiable with preventive measures and minor lifestyle interventions. One such important risk component is nutrition.


Dietary Patterns and Their Impact on Cardiovascular Health

According to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, over two-thirds of cardiovascular disease-related deaths could have been prevented with appropriate dietary interventions. That accumulates to a total of 6 million preventable deaths.

Furthermore, lifestyle factors have been found to reduce the risk of stroke by up to 80% per data 2019 study published in Nutrients. The findings identified an individual’s dietary patterns as the leading risk factor for stroke incidence.

In general, poor diet quality has been strongly associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. Diets that have high sodium, saturated and trans fat, and sugar intake and those containing large amounts of ultra-processed foods and alcohol are linked to significant adverse effects on cardiovascular health. By increasing levels of LDL cholesterol, inflammation, and lipids, unhealthy diets can cause plaque buildup in arteries, contribute to hypertension, and elevate triglyceride levels – all of which raise the risk of cardiovascular complications.

Cardiovascular Benefits of Healthy Diet Adherence

On the other hand, adherence to heart-healthy nutritional patterns has been associated with optimal cardiovascular health, among many other health benefits. Following a low-saturated fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease development and beneficially impact its treatment and management as well.

The Dietary Patterns Methods Project found a 14% to 28% lower CVD mortality rate among adults who adhered to high-quality dietary patterns and a 31% decreased risk of heart disease, 33% lower risk of diabetes, and a 20% decrease in stroke risk.

Nutritional Interventions for Improved Cardiovascular Health

According to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2021 Dietary Guidance, heart-healthy diets are primarily based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins – such as plant-based proteins, fish and seafood, low-fat dairy, lean and unprocessed meats or poultry. Such patterns also incorporate minimally processed foods and are low in beverages and foods with added sugars and salt.

As defined by the AHA, heart-healthy diets include the Mediterranean style diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and plant-based diets. Regardless of the diet style or name, nutritional interventions focused on the consumption of whole, healthy foods and avoidance of processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods have proven to significantly decrease the risk of CVD development while also improving cardiovascular health alongside other lifestyle interventions such as regular exercise and stress management.

A full exploration of the current evidence-based guidance on dietary patterns to promote optimal cardiometabolic health per the AHA statement published in Circulation can be found here. In addition, the Million Hearts Program offers many valuable resources to help maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, including meal planning guides, educational tools, and a wide-range of healthy recipes, accessible here.

Key Takeaways

With cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality persisting as the leading cause of death in the U.S., the role of healthcare professionals in guiding patients toward improving modifiable risk factors, namely dietary patterns, is of utmost importance. Nutritional interventions have been evidenced to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality significantly and can lead to a reduction in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.

To further explore the connections between cardiometabolic risk, nutrition, and the spectrum of evidence-based interventions for addressing disease, we invite you to join us at the Connecting the Dots in Cardiometabolic Medicine: Integrative Approaches to Improve Patient Care event. A4M will be co-hosting the unique 2-day conference with our sister brand, Cardiometabolic Health Congress (CMHC), a leader in comprehensive cardiometabolic health education.

Please call the Burick Center to learn more about how we can help you achieve a heart healthy nutrition plan  at 717-730-9000.

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Burick Center Staff MemberTracy Koval

Office Manager

Tracy joined the Burick Center for Health & Wellness in June of 2016 to help patients by managing various aspects of the office. Tracy brings more than three decades of medical office experience as the former office manager of a multi-specialty group and also works on a part-time basis as a Patient Service Rep at a local urgent care center.

Tracy’s favorite part of working in a medical practice is the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life by helping them navigate through the maze of health care. She loves being part of the dynamic team at the Burick Center.

Tracy likes to spend time with her family. She has two sons, Mason, who is living and working in Philadelphia as a Sr. Analyst for a marketing firm, and Spencer, who works at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts.

Burick Center Staff MemberTom Baker

Strategy Officer

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Burick Center Staff MemberRena Geesaman

Patient Coordinator

Rena Geesaman is a Registered Medical Assistant who enjoys providing attentive and caring client service. She is very happy to be part of the Burick Center team where patient care is our number one focus.

Her goal is to do everything within her power to ensure every interaction leaves you feeling well cared for and perhaps even delighted.

Rena volunteers by serving as board treasurer for Carlisle Christian Academy. She also helps facilitate a program at River of God Church for single, pregnant girls which provides practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Outside of the office Rena enjoys hiking, traveling, tending to her flower beds, hosting meals on their back deck, enjoying time with dear friends, loving on her little dogs, and best of all spending time with family. Being fairly new grandparents, she and her husband Don are always happy to share pictures of their little grandson, Lucas. Feel free to ask! She considers herself amazingly blessed!

Burick Center Staff MemberDr. Peter Lu


Dr. Peter Lu trained and worked in New York City for 15 years and recently moved to central PA. He studied pre-med at Brooklyn College and attended medical school at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. Thereafter he worked in the inner city hospitals of New York City, and lastly had the honor of caring for people with his sister in Stamford, Connecticut.

Dr. Lu greatly appreciates open lines of communication as it pertains to questions you may have about your ailment and how acupuncture could help in the healing process. His intention to address your needs to the best of his ability.

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Burick Center Staff MemberLee Morand

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Lee has had the sincere pleasure of working in the Greater Harrisburg area for over 20 years. She relocated to Harrisburg in 1990 after completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition Pre-Med at Cornell University. Lee received her first Master’s Degree from Shippensburg University. Her second Master’s Degree, as well as Doctorate, were both from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

She uses a Cognitive-Behavioral approach to guide her work with clients across the lifespan. She strongly believes research has shown that changing your thoughts does change your life. Her primary focus with clients is to reduce symptoms by assisting clients to achieve skills they can utilize in their professional, academic, and personal lives.

Burick Center Staff MemberHeather Motter

LMT, Massage Therapist and Back Desk Coordinator

Heather Motter joined the Burick Center team in 2018. A graduate of YTI Career Institute, Heather prides herself on using her highly developed skills to maintain the balance between mind and body. As a licensed massage therapist, she specializes in Medical Massage, Lymphatic Drainage, Trigger Point Therapy, and Oncology Massage.

Heather has a vast amount of experience working with a variety of patients. From a simple relaxation massage to a patient dealing with chronic pain, Heather is able to facilitate treatments uniquely designed for each patient’s individual needs.

Heather insists that massage is not just a relaxation luxury. Instead, her philosophy is that massage helps lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle. She encourages everyone to take the time to meet with her to develop a care plan to enhance their overall wellness.

Heather is a resident of Carlisle, where she resides with her fiancé, two sons, and four dogs. When she’s not at work, she can be found outside working on her back yard oasis, or volunteering at Speranza Animal Rescue.

Burick Center Staff MemberFelicia Miller


Felicia Miller is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist who provides nutritional counseling and education to patients of the Burick Center for Health & Wellness.

She takes the science of nutrition with her extensive knowledge of food and coaching skills to create an easy-to-follow actionable plan for her clients to follow.

Recognizing that there are multiple components to creating a successful wellness plan, she looks at the whole person – their concerns, lifestyle, personality, family, and career. Listening to her patients allows for Felicia to find the root cause of their issue and not simply the symptoms.

“Being healthy goes beyond diet, food is just one of the pillars of a happy, healthy person.” Felicia goes beyond the traditional diet education- she coaches and supports her patients as they learn how to make changes in their day-to-day life.

“I’m passionate about whole foods and healthy living I strive to inspire you to make positive food and lifestyle changes – at any age.”

Burick Center Staff MemberAshley Weibley

Registered Nurse

Ashley is a nurse at Burick Center for Health & Wellness. Her nursing philosophy is one of holistic care. She is a patient advocate committed to clear communication, education and applying critical thinking and decision-making skills to help patients achieve better outcomes. She enjoys providing the highest quality nursing care in a respectful, healing environment. She has a personal commitment to life-long learning through formal education and hands-on experience. She appreciates that compassion along with innovative care is what the Burick Center for Health & Wellness is all about.

Ashley has an Associate’s Degree from Harrisburg Area Community College and a Bachelors Degree from Penn State University.

She is married and has twin boys, She enjoys spending time with her friends, family and pets. She has owned and shown Quarter Horses all of her life and continues to compete in her spare time.