Health News

6 Grilling Tips to Avoid Carcinogens

by Columbia Surgery on August 22, 2014

177473555Summer may be winding down, but there is still plenty of time to gather with friends and family, kick back and relax as your dinner cooks away on the grill. And while this may be good, healthy fun, the way you cook your meat might not be so healthy. Because if cooked incorrectly, grilling can cause your meat to form Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs), which studies suggest may cause certain cancers


“HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. Whatever the type of meat, however, meats cooked at high temperatures, especially above 300ºF (as in grilling or pan frying), or that are cooked for a long time tend to form more HCAs. HCAs […] become capable of damaging DNA only after they are metabolized by specific enzymes in the body, a process called “bioactivation.” Studies have found that the activity of these enzymes, which can differ among people, may be relevant to cancer risks associated with exposure to these compounds.”

To help combat the formation of HCAs on your meat, dietician Anne Ammons has come up with 6 grilling tips for safer meat cooking:

  1. Avoid flame flare-ups. Flare-ups—when burger the fire shoots up around your meat—greatly increase the chance of HCA formation.
  2. Marinate meat for 30 minutes before grilling several studies (here and here) suggest marinating meat leads to fewer HCAs.
  3. Limit portion sizes. Smaller pieces means shorter cooking time and less chance for HCA formation.
  4. Choose leaner cuts of meats. Leaner cuts cause less flare-ups, which means less chance for HCAs.
  5. Do not overcook* or burn meat. You may prefer your burger resemble a hockey puck, but excessive overcooking can increase the chance for HCAs. (*As always, follow the food safety recommendations for internal cooking temperatures for your meat. The USDA recommends an internal cooking temperature of 160 °F for ground beef. We’d hate to have you avoid HCAs only to get sick with salmonella.)
  6. Switch to fruits and vegetables. Grilled fruits and vegetables are delicious, and they don’t get HCAs!

For smarter grilling, it is never too late to try some delicious, nutritious grilled alternatives:

-        veggie burgers

-        portabella mushroom caps to replace a ground beef burger

-        squash, peppers, or sweet potatoes

-        grilled pineapple is a tasty dessert.

Grilled pineappleGrilled portabello mushrooms


Read more:

 Turmeric, Curcumin, and Cancer: What’s the Research?

• Cheers for Chia: the Ancient Superfood

 Following The Dietary Guidelines for Americans May Reduce Your Risk for Pancreatic Cancer


Team develops novel technique to assess and prevent common problem that can be serious in some patients.

Frank D'Ovidio, MD, PhD

Frank D'Ovidio, MD, PhD

The Esophageal Disorders Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center has wide experience in treating adults and children with esophageal diseases. According to Frank D’Ovidio, MD, PhD, Surgical Director of the Lung Transplant Program, the esophageal team’s expertise, now world-renowned, has developed over decades of multidisciplinary collaboration.

Now, Dr. D’Ovidio is drawing on that expertise to address a significant complication associated with severe gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Approximately 20% of Americans have some degree of GERD, leading to approximately 65 million prescriptions and 4.7 million hospitalizations per year in the United States.* But despite these staggering numbers, even severe GERD can go undetected for long periods of time. Whether GERD occurs on its own or in association with other esophageal and lung conditions, it can lead patients to aspirate stomach content into their lungs.

Aspiration of stomach juices into the lungs is a particularly dangerous problem because it can damage the lining of the lungs, leading to presentations of lung disease ranging from asthma to lung fibrosis. “This problem is seldom recognized and often not appropriately treated,” says Dr. D’Ovidio. Moreover it is of great concern and a significant challenge in lung transplant patients, who are often affected by severe GERD. Aspiration can cause early lung dysfunction to newly transplanted lungs in such patients.

As a result of increased awareness of the dangers of prolonged non-classic GERD symptoms, the program is now working on an approach to help detect and prevent GERD-related aspiration so that patients can avoid developing associated lung disease. Their approach entails a new methodology to assess aspiration secondary to GERD. Specifically, Dr. D’Ovidio is developing a way to measure the presence of bile acids in the airways. Bile acids are components of the gastrointestinal juices and should not be present in the lungs. If they are found in the airway, this indicates the presence of severe GERD and recurrent aspiration.

The procedure works like this: doctors obtain fluid samples during bronchoscopy procedures (and in the future, they could potentially use sputum, expectorated secretions, or exhaled breath condensate as well). They then use the mass spectrometer to test the samples for the presence of duodenal gastric juices such as bile acids. This assessment can objectively monitor whether micro-aspiration is occurring, which would then help to guide treatment decisions. The mass spectrometry approach to test for bile acids in lung fluids has been developed and will be performed in partnership with Serge Cremers, PharmD, PhD. Director of the Biomarkers Core Laboratory of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

As Dr. D’Ovidio explains, “Lung transplant and other patients cannot tell when they are aspirating fluid into their lungs. They know if they are aspirating large volumes of fluid, called macro-aspiration, but they often can not tell if they are inhaling smaller quantities, called micro-aspiration. The ability to detect micro-aspiration could significantly improve the health of thousands of patients with otherwise asymptomatic GERD.” The new approach was made possible by combining the knowledge available in Dr. Cremers’ special chemistry laboratory with the esophageal team’s expertise in pathophysiology and clinical presentation of esophageal and lung disorders.

“We are initially looking to help a relatively small population affected by GERD, those who have undergone lung transplant or patients with gastroesophageal motor disorders. However, this test could potentially be used to help the broader population of people who suffer from GERD but do not have typical GERD-like symptoms (cough, asthma and others), and therefore go undiagnosed for many years. Of note, pulmonary fibrosis and COPD have been associated with GERD and possible aspiration,” says Dr. D’Ovidio. This new methodology is now being cross-tested in a multicenter study.


For information on treatment of GERD at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, please visit, or email


Innovations in GI/Endocrine Surgery

June 7, 2014

TweetSurgeons expand the use of the surgical robot to benefit patients undergoing complex pancreatic and gastric operations. Readers may have heard about surgical robots, which surgeons are using in increasing numbers across the country. At NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia, surgeons now use the surgical robot to perform gynecologic, urologic, colorectal, and a number of abdominal procedures. According […]

Read the full article →

Cytoreduction Surgery and Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy

June 1, 2014

TweetOffering long-term survival for patients with cancers of the abdominal lining Diagnosis of cancer that has spread to the abdominal wall lining (peritoneum) is typically considered a lethal diagnosis. But at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, many patients with these advanced cancers can expect long-term survival, thanks to refined surgical approaches and intra-abdominal chemotherapy. According to […]

Read the full article →

What is gluten and why are people avoiding it?

May 21, 2014

TweetIf you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you’ve probably seen gluten-free foods popping up all over the shelves. But a gluten-free diet is more than just a new fad. For people with celiac disease, it’s a necessary lifestyle adjustment to prevent the suffering that gluten can cause. Celiac disease is an inherited chronic inflammatory […]

Read the full article →

Free Event: Digestive Health Awareness Day, May 29

May 20, 2014

TweetDigestive diseases affect 60 to 70 million Americans, making it one of the most common ailments in the country. In support of Digestive Awareness Month, we at Columbia-Presbyterian are holding a free digestive health awareness event on May 29th from 10am-1pm in Milstein Hospital Lobby, 2nd Floor, 177 Fort Washington, New York, NY, 10032. A […]

Read the full article →

Pediatric Heart Surgery: Congenital Heart Defects

May 2, 2014

TweetCongenital Heart Center treats the sickest of newborns, with outcomes among the best in the nation. Every year, about 30,000 children in the United States, about one percent of all live births, are born with congenital heart defects. Many babies require surgery within hours of birth. Under the direction of pediatric cardiovascular surgeon Emile Bacha, […]

Read the full article →

Colorectal Surgery Update: Anal Fissures

April 17, 2014

TweetNew protocol to treat anal fissures offers excellent results, without cutting the muscle. Sometimes the most difficult thing about a problem is overcoming the fear of facing it. When people have painful conditions of the anus, they tend to be embarrassed to talk about that part of the body and even less enthusiastic about inviting […]

Read the full article →

Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism

April 15, 2014

TweetHypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are two of the most common thyroid disorders, and though their names sound almost identical, the disorders themselves are very different. The easiest way to remember the difference is to recall that “hyper” means too much, like when they say someone is hyperactive, it means they have too much energy. The thyroid […]

Read the full article →

Hernias: What You Need to Know

April 15, 2014

TweetA hernia happens when part of an internal organ or tissue bulges through a weak area of muscle, usually in the abdomen. While there are several types of hernias, the most common kinds are inguinal (groin) and umbilical hernias. Inguinal hernias are more commonly found in men and often begin developing shortly before or after […]

Read the full article →