Does the Shape of Food Tell You Which Body Part It’s Good For? 7 Good Examples : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Apr 30 | BY |
| Comments (28)

In the Doctrine of Signatures, carrot slices, thought to look like the human eye, were said to help protect the health of the eye. Modern science agrees.

Could the shape or appearance of a food tell you what part of the body it may benefit? According to an ancient concept called the “Doctrine of Signatures,” it can. A philosophy shared by health experts of ancient times, the doctrine stated that foods that look like certain parts of the body could be used to help heal those body parts.

Today’s scientists were quick to dismiss the doctrine’s ideas that a higher power had placed visual “signs” onto our food as ways to help cure disease, but ironically, modern studies have confirmed that certain foods do have health benefits—and these benefits often line up with certain parts of the body.

What is the Doctrine of Signatures?
The doctrine was originally created by a Renaissance physician named Paracelsus (1491-1541), who developed and published the idea. He pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine, and believed humans must have certain balances of minerals in their bodies for optimal health. The idea behind the doctrine was that the taste, shape, color, and overall appearance of plant foods could provide suggestions as to how they could be used in medicine.

Jacob Böhme, a German Christian mystic (1575–1624) is credited with spreading the doctrine to a wider audience, suggesting that plants that resembled human body parts had useful relevance to those parts. In other words, each plant had a “signature,” much like a human signature, that illuminated its character and specific talents.

Examples of Food Shape=Body Benefit
Following are some examples of foods and their uses according to the Doctrine of Signatures—and a glance at the scientific evidence supporting the connection. Is it real? You decide!

  1. Carrots: Sliced carrots were believed to look like the eye, with the round shape and “iris” in the middle. Your mother may have told you to eat your carrots to protect your eyesight. This vegetable is loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. But carrots aren’t the only foods that will protect your eyes—sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli are also full of nutrients good for eye health.
  2. Walnuts: Look at it from the top, and you’ll see it closely resembles the brain. Two sides split down the middle with a wrinkly overall appearance. Turns out walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for brain function. Other foods rich in omega 3’s include flaxseed, salmon, and olive oil.
  3. Celery: Look closely—a stalk of celery resembles an x-ray of your bones. Celery actually contains silicon, which gives bones their strength. Studies also show that soy isoflavones benefit bone density.
  4. Avocado: Cut it open, and you may be reminded of a woman’s womb. Avocadoes are a good source of folic acid, which helps reduce risk of cervical dysplasia. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute also found that woman with the highest intake of soy isoflavones had the lowest risk of endometrial cancer.
  5. Tomato: Slice it open and you’ll see multiple chambers that resemble the four chambers of the heart. A study from South Korea found that lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, may benefit heart health by boosting the body’s natural antioxidant defenses and protecting against DNA damage. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition (2003) found that diets high in tomato products were linked with lower rates of heart disease.
  6. Ginger: Look at the herb when it’s whole and you’ll see it somewhat resembles the stomach. Ginger has shown in studies to reduce nausea and vomiting. For example, researchers from the University of Rochester found that patients who took ginger supplements before their chemo infusions suffered fewer and less severe bouts of nausea afterwards than those given dummy pills.
  7. Sweet Potatoes: A picture of a pancreas may remind you of a sweet potato. This vegetable has a low glycemic index, which means that it breaks down slowly, going easy on the pancreas, which helps regulate blood-sugar levels.

Kev’s Thoughts:

I think the Doctrine of Signatures is pretty cool…

I was first introduced to this by Brigitte Mars and have been curious about it ever since. Wildman Steve Brill has mentioned it before as well.

This article brings some scientific “credibility” to the argument, which is what theories or ideas like these need for people to actually look at them with any serious consideration.

Where the doctrine fails is that there are plenty of foods that don’t look like what they’re good for. Lettuce doesn’t really look like much of anything in the body, neither does durian, and bananas are not good for the… well, I don’t need to go there, LOL!

It seems like parts of Paracelsus’ system have been dropped to just be associated with shapes — not the taste, color and other characteristics of the food. It seems like a lost “science” that has a number of significant associations and many more that aren’t a match at all.

So I think the best way to use this theory is for your own memory. So if a food does happen to look like something in the body, you can memorize it visually — which gives you a much higher chance of retention. I have a feeling that the doctrine of signatures started as a teaching tool that was recognized by the individuals who wanted to teach the next generation about the foods around them, more so than a messaging system sent down from a creator.

I, of course, could be tremendously wrong, but this is just my hunch.

What do you think of the Doctrine of Signatures? Please share your ideas.

* * *
Photo courtesy _salanka_ via


Gail A. Greendale, Dietary Soy Isoflavones and Bone Mineral Density: Results from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, No. 8, 2002.

Amanda Green, “Foods That Look Like Body Parts They’re Good For,” Woman’s Day,

Greg Arnold, “Foods Containing Soy Benefit Uterine Health,” January 12, 2012,

“Study Unlocks Lycopene’s Heart-Health Benefits,” Swanson Health Products, February 2011,

Tomato Health and Nutrition, Tomato Products Wellness Council.

“New Chemo Miracle Drug—Ginger,” New York Post, May 15, 2009.;jsessionid=0E9A9BEFA552E4AC5E520C751BCA5BEA.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. RACHEL says:

    This is an interesting concept!

  2. Stephanie says:

    for Avocadoes, rather than the fact it resembles woman’s womb, it is closer to men’s testicles! Apparently the word “avocado” itself comes from it…It’s great for prostate cancer, right??!!

  3. Medkid says:

    If you can slice and dice it, you can make it look like anything. Besides – these things are good for lots of other body parts as well, this seems very superstitious to me.

  4. I wrote all about this in Nature’s Secret Messages: Hidden in Plain Sight.

    Einstein said we know .01% about nature.

    After speaking with shaman, medicine men, Indian tribes people, Botanists, etc. I found this goes so much deeper.

    Here’s the issue . . . everyone gets so simplistic and wants the microwave answer. Sorry, nature’s not that superficial.

    Wow, so much to say here.

    Short answer. Doctrine of Signatures requires much more contemplation and being in tune with nature to see what’s right for you.

    Also what I saw is more than amazing. Too many coincidences.

  5. pe says:

    Yes, avocado is a rendering of ahuacatl, the Nahuatl word meaning testicle. So ahuaca-molli (avocado sauce) became guacamole. And Myanma became Burma to Brits [who also messed Bislama or Beche de Mer into Beach la Mar]– next time some TV scarecrow says they ‘call’ Burma Myanmar, laugh at them.
    But Paracelsus…his middle name was Bombastus, and he liked arsenic. Don’t go there.

  6. Karen says:

    I learned about this from Don Tolman who spoke at a prior Longevity Now conference. Interesting stuff. BTW, are you and Ann coming to the upcoming conference on May 18th?

  7. Therese von Rodeck says:

    I love this, it’s fun with the kids! And lets not forget the Kidney Bean, obvious. How about a cluster of grapes? A bunch hanging from a stem look like the shape of the heart, however really look like red blood cells!!

  8. I originally heard of this from Don Tolman, and find it very interesting. I don’t think we have to find a “signature” in every food nor limit a food’s usefulness to one body part, but none-the-less it is interesting the way God has designed things. Figs are good for the testicles.

  9. Gillian says:

    Whilst I agree that the shapes of the foods are a good way of remembering what they are good for, I am concerned that people are still promoting unfermented soy foods as being healthy. It is a fact that soy foods depress the function of the thyroid, and also have other impacts on health. As a vegetarian, I used to eat unfermented soy foods such as soy milk and tofu, and these foods depressed my thyroid function so badly that I now have to take daily tablets for the rest of my life. I should add that fermented soy is not as bad as unfermented soy, but that most soy is contaminated with genetically engineered soy, and scientifically documented studies link GE/GM foods with 65 different health dangers in animals and people.

  10. Chris says:

    I note in Item 2 of the article “Walnuts” that olive oil is NOT a source of Omega 3. It is in fact a source of primarily Omega 9 and a little Omega 6. linseed and Hemp Seed contain Omega 3 and Omega 6.

    As to the doctrine of signatures, well there should be no dispute that foods that look like a body part are in fact good for that body part. We don’t need an evidence based science study to tell us that with all its inherent limitations and approximations. The signature foods are also good for the body generally, as are the foods that don’t look particularly like any part of the body such as lettuce.

    Bottom line, eat all these foods in abundance and let the health results speak for themselves.

  11. tamarque says:

    Years ago in an herbal workshop Doctrine of Signatures was taught. It was part of the way early peoples learned to heal themselves. The presentation talked, not only about the shape of a plant relative to a body part, but there was an entire system that involved colors, and different parts of the plant. We did meditations on different plants and then described what medicinal qualities came to us. It was quite dramatic to see that what people came up with on a given plant matched medicinal descriptions that were written in an older herbal.

    Homeopathy employed DofS in its early days, too, to assess medicinal potential of different plants that then were potentized and proven.

  12. zyxomma says:

    I learned the Doctrine of Signatures decades ago. I expressed my belief that strawberries must be good for the heart. Sure enough, just this week, research was published indicating just that.

    Health and peace.

  13. Lori says:

    I read that since avocados resemble the thyroid they are good for thyroid health.

  14. Robin says:

    Re: Soy. Absolutely right about effects on thyroid, though many say fermented forms OK. The problem is we eat much more of it than Asians. They use it as a condiment. Many vegetarians use it for their protein source.

    But also major phyto-estrogen!

    And found in almost everything, now, even prepared with meat in them! And, like MSG, has many ‘aliases’ on a food label. Textured veg. protein, or even veg. oil, sometimes. Read the labels if you eat any prepared foods! Even canned tuna fish has it added. Soy oil first ingred. in the almighty mayo we ate as kids. Also in high end cchocolate bars as lecithin. Made me cramp for days.

    Cheap filler, cheap source of lecithin–check your supplements! And source of ?linoleic acid required in some foods? Watch for it in almost all pet foods, esp. dry foods!

    Buy quality foods for pets, Read labels for you!

  15. carvacrol says:

    I’ve read about this and it seems quite interesting, but more of a coincidence than anything else. Great for a bit of fun but not to be taken seriously. With the 1000s of different foods available some are bound to have a match to a specific body body and also provide the correct nutrients for that body part.

    If you looked hard enough you could probably also prove that some foods that look like body parts are really bad for that body part.

    Perhaps we should become cannibals, as then we’d have a perfect match of food to body parts. Only kidding. I’ll stick with carrots.

  16. Amandaswan says:

    I understand that there are some issues with the doctrine of signatures. For example, to convert the pre-curser vitamin A from carrots into the useable form for healing your eyes, you require well functioning glands. So, for many, other foods may be much better.

    Don Tolman does mention bananas for male genital issues funnily enough!

  17. Bea Kunz says:

    I believe everything that was practiced for the good of health in the past has some merit, perhaps much more than we are willing to admit.

    I’m a dedicated believer in the science of nature and the systems that kept man alive and evolving.

    It would be very arrogrant of us to dismiss the Doctrine of Signatures as anything less than what it was in it’s time. A method of care and healing.

    The earliest of history has much to teach us…

    Thanks for the sharing~

  18. Drew says:

    What about Mussels,,, Hmmm..

  19. Kuru says:

    Lettuce looks like hair in some cases, and is good for it with its Vitamin B. Also just googled for bananas, and an article in Men’s Health on foods that make you harder said this:
    Hard men have healthy hearts, so eat bananas for potassium, which is great for your heart and circulation. Getting enough potassium helps keep your sodium levels under control, stopping your blood pressure from hitting the roof and reducing your risk of heart problems. If you eat too much salt and don’t like bananas, get your potassium from oranges or jacket potatoes (the mineral’s in the skin).

    Obviously the theory is correct! Don Tolman gets credit for taking it out of the books and circulating it on the internet. Thanks, Don, for helping even non-foodies focus on healthy eating.

  20. Mary says:

    Old news….. But still a fun way to remember what Mom always said,
    Eat your vegetables!!!!

  21. Hilary says:

    Mother Nature is amazing, and there is certainly something in this.
    It takes 9 months to grow an avocado btw :).

  22. Dorah says:


    You are right about soy products. I was under that mistaken idea of “soy is the healthiest food ever”. So I really went to town, so to say, I went for Soy milk, soy coffee, soy Sauce, roast Soy beans, name it as long as it said SOY, it was best food for me. And guess what it did to me!!! I got menopause two years after that even though I was still relatively young, my hair started falling off!, my weight went through the ceiling! Cause of this? Thyroid dis-functional!! Why does the powers that be allow these profit hungry people to feed us on POISON?

    Gillian, did you lose your hair like I DID? Thats what hurt me most.

  23. Rebecca Cody says:

    Avocados contain FOLATE, not FOLIC ACID, which is the artificial form of the important B vitamin. When we take in the artificial form, our bodies can only convert a portion of it to the useful form, and the rest circulates in our bloodstreams. Folic acid causes lots of other problems, and we don’t know all he havoc it wreaks, but we do know from research that too much folic acid contributes to cancer, while plenty of folate helps protect from cancer.

    So, health writers, even if your dictionary says they are the same, they aren’t. Please use the correct term. People need to know they need to avoid this artificial vitamin (the one mandated by the government to be in lots of food, including most prenatal vitamins and baby formula)! For more details, go to and read his article on the subject.

  24. yaub says:

    I can name a few Food Shape=Body parts if i pick up the pipe where i left years ago.

  25. George says:

    The respondents seem to be divided on this concept, and I am more than a little sceptical myself. For example, eggplant. These come in different shapes, round, pear-shaped and long and cylinderical. If this concept be valid, the different species of this one vegetable would be beneficial to that part of the body they most resemble. I think this idea is more in the category of supersition, unless someone can prove it beyond a doubt.

  26. Katharine says:

    The new Hippocrates Health Institute Magazine is out and the topic is Human Sexuality. I wrote an article in it. Its free if you go on their website and subscribe. They send it to you!

    I love the doctrine of signatures. Now modern nutritional science is finding the nutrients in these foods so show that they are in fact beneficial to the tissues they resemble!

  27. Angela says:

    Known about this for a while and I am amazed by it still!

    Comments are closed for this post.