health in a capsule

Crops vs. Chronic Disease: Part 1

Justin PlattBlog

We are what we eat, right? Dr Henry J. Thompson argues that it’s not only what’s on our plates that determines sickness or health; it’s also the “dietary patterns” – the resources and rituals – that accompany every meal.

Dr Henry J. Thompson is a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Director of the Cancer Prevention Laboratory at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado. For nearly two decades, Thompson has infiltrated an often overlooked part of the food and farm system. He believes that a person’s diet and physical exercise can prevent disease – despite the fact that many of his colleagues conclude that reactive, synthetic treatments are the answer to chronic conditions.

Dr Thompson set out to join the dots connecting food crops to dietary patterns to human health to reducing the risk of four lethal chronic diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type II diabetes
  • Obesity.

Dr Thompson was able to research his theories by forming the Biomedical Agriculture (BMA) initiative with the Crops For Health® (CFH) programme at CSU. BMA “is the interdisciplinary study of the processes relating to chronic disease development and the innovative solutions to biomedical problems only addressable with increased understanding of the human food supply and its improvement in a health context.”

The overall goal of BMA is to identify specific genotypes of a food crop that alone (and when combined with other food crops) form a dietary pattern that reduces chronic disease risk. For example, when a crop is prepared as a food, it might undergo a fundamental change in composition. It may be combined with other foods to form the overall diet; the dietary pattern. So, how can the diet be optimised from agriculture through to consumption?

Crops for Health® addresses the links between plants, food and cancer risks by: “identifying, developing and producing food crop genotypes that show maximum potential to benefit human health while retaining adapted traits that make them profitable to grow and distribute in the global marketplace.”*


Diet diversity

Just as diverse cover cropping results in better soil health, so does diversity in the diet result in human health. Thus, across the system from farm to table, diversity has the potential to reduce chronic disease.

  • Diverse consumption of a whole-food-based diet (not ingredient foods) results in improved health
  • High dietary quality comes from a diverse food pattern.

The benefits of beans 

Dr Thompson’s research focuses on staple crops that many populations around the globe rely on for food. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss Thompson’s findings on the impact of beans and pulses on human health and disease prevention.

Soil health for human health

Like Dr Thompson, we have always believed that soil health, plant health and human health are all interconnected. 

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