The Placebo Effect and Nutritional Value of Foods

Nadine Watters
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Most of us have heard of the term “placebo effect,” parlance for when a sugar pill or other harmless substance brings about healing. In other words, when the person taking it really believes it is an actual medical treatment, unaware that there is no actual medicine involved.

This is also known as the “placebo response,” and to put it bluntly, it’s a response based on a completely fake treatment. One can take what is essentially distilled water and have remarkable – and very real – improvements in their condition(s) based solely on their expectation and belief that it will work. The stronger the belief of the person, the higher the odds they will indeed feel and experience a positive response. (1)

Types of placebos

Interestingly, a placebo is not always in pill form. Any “treatment,” including special exercises, nutritional plans, physical and similar therapies, benign forms of surgery, and special diets can be just as powerful in causing the placebo effect. It’s all about the expectation and belief coming from the person using the method. (2)

In other words, the power of perception is incredibly strong.

So how can this be helpful for you when it comes to the foods you consume, and your attitude regarding the nutritional benefits?

Food as placebo

In Matt Monarch’s recent live hangout session on TRFW from February 10, he brings up the concept. (3)

“Why do you think the placebo works so well? Why do people heal when they take placebo? There are all sorts of studies that show the healing rates as almost equal,” he noted. “Why is that? Because you take the placebo and you really believe that you are better, and then you stop that thing from coming in that caused the disease in the first place.”

Essentially, if your mind believes that your body is better, your body will follow suit.

This is linked to food and our beliefs about the benefits and perceived nutritional value, as well. If one strongly believes that they are healing their body in some way by consuming foods with high nutrient value, for example, then the healing will more likely occur.

Let it be stated for the record that this in no way diminishes the actual, valid, and yes, proven benefits of certain healthy foods. It is simply an “added value” to the consumption of foods already proven to have a healthy positive impact on the body.

This is fantastic news, because it means you can actually maximize the already beneficial impact of healthy foods, and in that process, increase and boost the positive effects!


Let’s say that you are struggling with some fatigue and feeling mildly depressed, and you’ve heard from a friend that including maca in your diet will help increase your energy and mood, so they urge you to give it a try (maca is a root plant ground and sold in the form of powder, by the way).

You are intrigued, so you decide to try it. You notice that you start feeling better, and this makes you eager to learn more about it. You do some research, and discover that it is a “superfood” chock-full of nutrients that are proven to boost mood, energy, and increase endurance. (4)

The very act of obtaining this valuable information can increase the efficacy of your results, because your mind is processing that, yes indeed – this food has been proven to bring about those positive results!

Speaking of maca and placebo, get this: a 2014 study found that “maca appeared to reduce symptoms of depression compared with placebo, and also lowered blood pressure.” (5)

The verdict

According to Marc David, M.A., founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, the placebo effect is a powerful part of the entire nutritional process of the foods we consume.

“It’s profoundly present on a day-to-day basis every time we eat. It’s like phoning in a prescription to your own inner nutritional pharmacy.” David said. “What we believe is alchemically translated into the body through nerve pathways, the endocrine system, neuropeptide circulation, the immune network, and the digestive tract.” (6)

So next time you are considering healthier nutritional options for improving your overall health, mood, energy levels, joint pains, or anything else – make sure you do some investigation into the proven benefits of certain foods. Chances are, with that knowledge, your mind will double its efforts to maximize the benefits you receive.

Salud, and bon appétit!

Sources for this article include:
(1) www.medicinenet.com
(2) www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
(3) www.youtube.com
(4) news.therawfoodworld.com
(5) www.wsj.com
(6) psychologyofeating.com

Image source: flic.kr

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