Gluten-free goodies: Health coach shares survival tips for gluten-free holidays

November 13, 2013 9:32:42 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


As Thanksgiving and Christmas march ever closer, many of us are thinking ahead to desserts for holiday dinners and parties. Alyssa Davis is, too. But the Starkville cook's shopping list probably looks different than yours or mine. Davis has been gluten-free for several years now -- not because she thought it was trendy, but because she believes it improves her life and keeps her medication- and symptom-free after years of battling Crohn's Disease. 


The Mississippi State senior's proactive approach to her own health began not long after she was hospitalized in 2010 with Crohn's, an illness she had struggled with since age 12. 


"My future was going to be medicines, treatments and surgeries," said Davis. But before she would accept that outlook, the Mendenhall native decided she would exhaust all other avenues. After extensive reading and research, she elected to makeover her diet and lifestyle. She began by eliminating glutens from meals, cutting back on sugar and making a few other changes. The results were cause for celebration. 


"Ever since I did that, I've been enjoying health; I've never been as healthy as I am now," said the 23-year-old coed, who will graduate in December. 


After experiencing for herself the life-altering impact of her choices, Davis was eager to learn even more. She has since become a personal health and wellness coach, certified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. She's a member of the International Association of Health Coaches as well.  


Along the journey, Davis discovered a fascination with cooking and specializes in gluten-free dishes.  




What is gluten? 


The short answer is that glutens refer to proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten-free diets were originally designed to combat celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder that can destroy the intestinal tract. Some individuals are gluten-sensitive and follow gluten-free regimens to combat feelings of fatigue, bloating and even depression.  


"Gluten sensitivity can cause about 300 adverse reactions," Davis explained. "You can have a DNA test to determine if you're sensitive -- or just go gluten-free for a month and see if your health improves and you feel better," she suggested. 


Foods laden with glutens include some goodies we love -- traditional cookies, cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, muffins, pastries, brownies and everything else made with wheat flour. But that doesn't mean you have to do without. 




There's another way 


"I love being able to recreate recipes; I have fun with it," said Davis, who is savvy at adapting recipes. With ingredients like almond flour, coconut milk, pecans, flax seed and honey, she can whip up a pumpkin pie, brownies or apple crumble, among other things, that are nutrient-rich and contain no refined flour or sugar.  


When it comes to taste, Davis' approach is to think of each gluten-free dessert as a whole new recipe.  


"They're going to be a little different, but really good," she said.  


Locally, she relies on Kroger as a primary source for ingredients. She does order a few necessities, like pecan flour, online. There are plenty of gluten-free dishes on the Internet. Davis also recommends the cookbooks "Against All Grain" by Danielle Walker and "Breaking the Viscious Cycle" by Elaine Gottschall. She also shares a wealth of recipes on her own site,, where you'll find instructions for her apple crumble at the "dessert" link. Her brownie and pumpkin pie recipes are in today's food pages.  


"You can't be afraid to experiment, recreating dishes that you love in a new way," coached Davis. "It may be outside your comfort zone at first, but just be willing to step out and know you're making a great decision for yourself and your family.  


Editor's note: Alyssa Davis will conduct a Holiday Survival Workshop Thursday at the North Mississippi Acupuncture and Holistic Center, 140 Brickerton St., Columbus, at 7 p.m. Cost is $12 at the door; $8 if pre-registered by calling 601-382-1868. 








3 packed cups blanched almond flour 


2/3 cups cocoa powder (I use Navitas Naturals from website )  


1/2 teaspoon salt 


1 tablespoon of baking soda 


1 cup coconut sugar 


1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


7 tablespoons bourbon whiskey 


4 tablespoons organic butter or coconut oil or cocoa butter (I prefer organic butter) 


1/3 cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand from Kroger) 


1/3 cup pecans, chopped 




For the caramel: 


1/4 cup organic butter  


1/2 cup coconut sugar 


2 1/2 tablespoons cream from a can of heavy coconut milk. (Use canned in moderation) (You can also make your own coconut milk and cream)  


More chocolate chips melted for the top, optional 




  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan (or one of similar size) with parchment paper.  


  • Thoroughly mix together the brownie ingredients, until positive they are well combined. Place the batter in the pan and press down firmly with hands so that it holds together. (It will, even without the eggs.) 


  • Bake 30-40 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch. 


  • To make the caramel, bring the caramel ingredients to a rapid boil over medium heat until the ingredients seem to be well combined, just until it thickens. Do not overheat. Pour over the brownies and top with chopped pecans and chocolate chips. 


    (Source: Alyssa Davis) 








    For the crust:  


    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut flour 


    1/4 cup almond flour or flaxseed flour 


    1/4 teaspoon baking soda 


    1 teaspoon cinnamon 


    1/4 cup coconut oil, melted 


    1/4 cup honey 


    1 egg 


    1 teaspoon vanilla 




    For the filling:  


    1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (or about 2 cups fresh) 


    1/2 cup coconut or almond milk 


    3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk 


    1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


    1/4 teaspoon Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (or sea salt) 


    1 teaspoon ground ginger 


    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 


    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg  




    3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (product example: Spice Island/Kroger) 


    1/2 cup grade B maple syrup or honey 




  • To make the crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the wet ingredients. 


  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until combined completely. 


  • Press the dough evenly into a greased 9-inch pie plate with your hands. Press into the bottom and sides of the pan.  


  • Bake the crust for 5-7 minutes first. Freeze for 45 minutes.  


  • To make the pumpkin pie filling, whisk all filling ingredients together in a bowl. Pour the filling into the frozen pie crust. (Cover the edges of the crust with foil; almond flour can burn easily.) 


  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until pie has set but it still slightly jiggly in the center. (If you turn off the oven and leave the oven cracked for 30 minutes, it can prevent the pie from cracking.) 


  • Top with toasted pecans, coconut cream and/or caramel sauce after pie is cool. 


    (Source: Alyssa Davis)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.