Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis (2020) – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

Nourish
Nourish by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis Book Cover

5/5

“Nourish It is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature”

This review may differ from my usual structure for reasons that will become clear shortly. First, I will introduce the authors, describe the purpose of the book, tell you what I loved about it, break it down and finally give a few quotes. I hope you enjoy this introduction to Brenda Davis and Reshma Shah here at Interest Peaks. For those of you who may not be familiar with them, I highly recommend you check these authors out on social media and online.

About the Authors

Brenda Davis, dietitian, author of a dozen books, is a pioneer in plant-based nutrition. I am incredibly privileged, grateful, and continually inspired by my always loving mother, Brenda Davis. My mother is the most pleasant kind of person. She is kind, warm, energetic, overwhelmingly positive, and always encouraging. She is a powerful speaker and masterful writer. Her words flow with passion, emotion, and a well-respected authority. If you have not already, I highly encourage you to check out her books, lectures, and other content available online.

Rebuild Your Body with Hall of Fame Dietitian Brenda Davis - Switch4Good
Brenda Davis, RD

Please check out Brenda Davis’ website at www.BrendaDavisRD.com for more.

Reshma Shah is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health. If I remember the story correctly, she met Brenda on an airplane. They immediately hit it off and this book was the result. It reminds me that beautiful things can be found in unexpected places. I am thrilled and excited by Reshma’s collaboration with Brenda. Their synergy flows through the writing as they articulate concepts and information in ways that resonate with the reader beyond expectation. I look forward to more from Reshma and thank her for the work she has done here.

Reshma Shah, MD, MPH

Please check out Reshma Shah’s website at www.ReshmaShahMD.com for more.

Purpose of “Nourish”

Nourish is for families. It provides clarity and relief to the question of how to raise a healthy plant-based family. It starts from square one – preconception. Then it carefully and articulately tours you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and beyond. It provides practical tools and advice to plan and prepare healthy meals, and family eating activities.

This is the definitive guide for plant-based families. Much like “Becoming Vegetarian” was the much-needed definitive guide for those considering a vegetarian diet, Nourish is a modern and relevant guide designed for families considering healthier dietary choices or are moving toward a more plant-based diet.

What I Loved

The authors begin many sections with storytelling to provide context and relevance for the ensuing content. For example, they will tell the story of someone’s journey to understanding the importance of fat or iodine, and steps they took to address it. Or the true story about a four-year old daughter’s reaction to her parents deciding to try out a plant-based diet. I love this. It makes the information personal. It demonstrates why or how the forthcoming content will be practical to understand. They don’t need to tell you directly “this is important to know” as an authority. Rather the importance is realized through storytelling of regular people. It makes you want to know what is coming.

This book is a welcomed addition to the plant-based guidance literature. The first part provides general information about what a plant-based diet is and demonstrates that plant-based diets can achieve adequate and optimal nutrition. It addresses several misconceptions about plant-based diets, and omnivore diets. Such as how vegans get protein, is cow’s milk a necessary component of a healthy diet, and so forth.  

My favourite aspect of this book is the thread of compassion woven throughout it. They note that nutrition books, especially for families, should not solely focus on nutrition. Rather we need to consider compassion, resource allocation and the environment when making decisions around consumption as well. There are of many ways to be nutritionally fulfilled at an unjustifiable expense of the planet and well-being of others. It would be irresponsible for any health professional to promote diets that come with such hefty opportunity costs and negative impacts to humanity.

Nourish also does a great job at defining its terms. They define the term “plant-based” in a way that really resonates with me. Some vegan circles demonize outgroups while restricting membership to their ingroup. With an “your either with us or against us” mentality, they make the vegan community exclusive… while the societal norm today is focussing efforts on diversity and inclusion. There are many non-vegans who share the same values which serve as the foundation for veganism. Yet these allies are still outcasted by many vegan communities, contrary to their goals. Brenda and Reshma do a wonderful job here, defining plant-based diets along a spectrum that captures many people. Along this spectrum it promotes the idea that plant-based communities can be more inclusive and amicable to others who may share similar values such as compassion, environment, or health.

The Meat of the Matter: Breaking Down the Book

Nourish is broken down into four parts:

  1. Consideration
  2. Care
  3. Confidence
  4. Connection

The Introduction breaks down terminology around plant based diets and does a fabulous job of setting up the stage for what is to come, “from picky eaters to childhood obesity, disordered eating, we hope to show that how we feed our families may matter as much as what we feed our families”.

Consideration contains three chapters, Health, Home and Heart. These are great introductory chapters to the rest of the book and provides a rationale for why parents should consider a plant-based lifestyle for themselves and their families. This will capture your attention leaving you anxious to delve into the chapters to come.

Care is about nutrition and feeding the family. It breaks down the facts and gives sound advice about nutrition. It dispels myths and is full of tips on nutrients. It discusses what makes a diet healthy and guides you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and adolescence.

Confidence takes you on a tour beyond nutrition of the body, delving into psychology and communication techniques. Confidence addresses family dynamics, picky eating, and supports a healthy, happy, inclusive dinner table.

Connection is the section you will keep open in your kitchen for days at a time. It provides resources, sound tips and advice on shopping, meal-planning, menu development, and of course… recipes! From Tofu Tikka Masala, pumpkin muffins, to peanut butter brownies, you can show your loved ones you care with the tasty treats and thoughtful dishes this section will teach you to make.

I really do love the structure of the book. The first section reels the reader in. It was riveting, covering topics that resonate with me in a way that only Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis can produce.

The authors are honest and genuine when they admit that not all plant-based diets are ealth promoting. A vegan diet does not necessarily promote health if it relies on mostly processed foods. You can be a junk-food vegan easily. Potato chips, deep fried veggie-meats, vegetable tempura, white bread, cookies, cakes and all kinds of foods that are vegan can mitigate the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet.

The section on feeding styles really peaked my interest. Parental feeding practices can have a significant impact on a child’s food preferences and consumption patterns.  I love the interdisciplinary approach here. They first cover the science of nutrition, then apply principles of psychology and family dynamics to it. This helps the reader form a much more level-headed and well-rounded perspective toward family eating. They provide excellent guidelines and tips for how to go about feeding the family. Tips like make meals a family event, pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods, and be patient and calm introducing different foods to the family all are excellent additions to a parent’s toolbox.

The discussion on family meals really makes me appreciate my parents. My parents always made dinner time a family affair that we all looked forward to. Most importantly, it was time we could always count on to spend together, where stories were shared and relationship building occurred. The authors note here that some research suggests that eating meals as a family may have more of an impact on an adolescent’s positive outcomes than things we would more strongly associate with such as socioeconomic status, tutors, or church.

There are positive outcomes associated with family meals such as helping kids do better at school. For example, family meals facilitate conversation which can promote language development, literacy and future academic success. Family meals may come with a suite of other positive impacts such as health, helping you worry less about your teens, happier teens, happier parents, and it allows you to be more connected with your family. Of course not all families can eat meals together every day and the authors are very understanding and forgiving of that, providing tips and strategies to increase family meal opportunities and make the best of the opportunities you do have.

Nourish is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature.  

A Few Great Quotes

“Perhaps the most extraordinary of a plant-based approach to feeding our families is the realization that they are all connected – our health, the health of our planet, and compassion for all living beings…. health, compassion and sustainability are wrapped together in one beautiful package”

“Family meals are one of the most powerful tools that parents have in protecting and nurturing their children”.

“Many parents find themselves stuck on the words ‘appropriately planned’ and fear that such planning is beyond the reach of busy families with limited resources. We contend that all diets for children need to be appropriately planned, and while a plant-based diet for children may require some care and consideration, it is no more than any parent would give in feeding their child a balanced and appropriate diet.”

“Not only does diet play an essential role in our health but it also has the power to connect and serve as an expression of our culture and our values”

Closing Remarks

Nourish is a timely and welcomed  addition to the plant-based literature addressing an underrepresented topic. If you, or a family member has thought about leaning toward a more plant inclusive, or plant-based diet, then I highly urge you to pick up a copy of this book. If anything, the recipe section alone pays for itself, and the meaningful content will spur conversation and introspection about how we think about food together.

Love you Mom and Reshma! You are both heroes to me.  

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