Grilling may be a rite of summer, but changing some habits can make it a healthier one. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is trying to persuade consumers to marinate and precook meat and fish before barbecuing to reduce cancer risk.

The idea is to reduce cancer-causing agents called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are produced by the grilling of red meats, poultry, game and fish. HCAs can lead the genes to form breast, colon, stomach or prostate cancers. Carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) also form when fat drips onto hot coals and is delivered back onto food via smoke and rising flames, said Karen Collins, nutrition advisor for AICR.

To reduce risk, the institute says, follow these measures:

* Marinate before you grill. Some studies show that soaking meats in a fat-free, acid-based liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar cut HCA formation by up to 99 percent. In some cases, the goods had to marinate for only 20 minutes.

* Precook meats in the oven or microwave, then briefly grill for flavor. The less time the meat spends over high heat, the less chance that HCAs will form, said Collins.

* Keep meat pieces small so they need less time on the grill.

* Use lean meats and trim fat to reduce drips onto hot coals or other heat sources.

* Slow-cook meat in the oven and grill more fruit and veggies instead.

Other steps can also help. Keep flames off the meat, said Susan Moores, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, and trim all charred parts before serving, as PAHs and HCAs tend to concentrate in the burned areas.

Even adopting just a few of these measures can significantly reduce risk, according to Moores. Eating cruciferous veggies -- like broccoli or Brussels sprouts -- with your meat can also help, recent studies show. The veggies' antioxidant properties help counterbalance the effect of HCAs in grilled meats. Mixing potatoes into ground patties may also lower risk.

-- Suz Redfearn