• Helen Tzouganatos, a gluten-free cookbook author and blogger. (Supplied )
Helen Tzouganatos, 42, was diagnosed with coeliac disease while investigating the cause of infertility at an IVF clinic. Eleven years and three children later, the gluten-free cookbook author shares her food story with SBS.
By
Helen Tzouganatos, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

13 May 2019 - 1:25 PM  UPDATED 13 May 2019 - 1:41 PM

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease around 11 years ago at my IVF clinic.

I had been trying to get pregnant for three years and was unsuccessful. But I found a wonderful IVF doctor who I talked to about the symptoms I was experiencing – I was constantly fatigued and had anaemia even though I ate a lot of meat.

He said ‘it sounds like you have coeliac disease’. I asked him what it was as it was virtually unheard of back then. He said ‘it’s an autoimmune disease and your body can’t tolerate gluten. Cut it out of your diet and we will see how we go.’

 

So I eliminated gluten from my diet I went down the IVF path to try to fall pregnant. 

Today, I have three children. Two of them were born through IVF and the third was a natural pregnancy.

It’s funny because I remember that my IVF doctor said it takes about five years for the body to recover from the damage caused by gluten. Exactly after five years after I cut it gluten from my diet, I fell pregnant naturally. After years of trying to conceive, it was amazing for my third pregnancy to happen like that.

Today, I have three children. Two of them were born through IVF and the third was a natural pregnancy.

Life today as a gluten-free mother of 3

Nowadays, if a person presents to a doctor with stomach cramps and digestive issues, the first thing they will say is ‘maybe you have a gluten-intolerance’.

But back then, finding out I had coeliac disease was a shock. Initially, you don’t know what you can and can’t eat. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. They are the four things you have to cut out of your diet.

I am Greek and in our foods, wheat is everywhere: it’s in my mum’s spanakopita (spinach pie), her pastries, desserts and homemade bread. So the hardest thing to do was to eliminate these Greek gluten-based dishes.

A decade ago there was also limited gluten-free food available in the supermarket. I had to drive 10 kilometres to get a loaf of gluten-free bread that was like a brick and tasted like cardboard because it was the only option I could find.

Eventually, I started developing my own gluten-free recipes. I have a marketing background and people said to me, you should start a gluten-free blog with gluten-free recipes and restaurant recommendations. After I had my third child, I thought I’d give it a go. I put my recipes on my blog and [my following soon] grew on social media.

These days, physically, I feel great and I am all about cooking meals at home from scratch. The good thing about going gluten-free is that you end up cutting a lot of processed foods out of your diet as you cook more nutrient-dense food.

These days, physically, I feel great and I am all about cooking meals at home from scratch.

There are a lot of variations of indulgent recipes that you can make gluten-free that are also better for you. For example, instead of wheat flour, I’ll use corn flour, rice flour, buckwheat or tapioca flour.

The gluten-free products market has also just exploded. Now, when you go to Coles, there’s an entire bay dedicated to gluten-free bread. There’s a plethora of information about gluten-free foods online now.

There are also gluten-free cookbooks like mine to help you prepare gluten-free meals at home. In my book, I have a recipe for gluten-free spanakopita. The filling is my mum’s recipe but I just adapt it to have a gluten-free pastry.

My friends eat all of my cakes, bread and pastries even though I’m the only one who is gluten-free. They don’t have any idea that the foods are gluten-free, as they are fluffy and moist and not hard as a rock like gluten-free food used to be back in the day.

So you don’t need to be scared of gluten-free food: it can be delicious.

But, if you do suspect that you have a problem with gluten, go and see your GP. If you have coeliac disease, you really need to know as it could cause you long-term health problems.

Lead image: Instagram, Helen Tzouganatos - @hungryandfussy

Australia's largest dedicated Gluten Free Expo will run 6-7 October at Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. For more information, visit www.glutenfreeexpo.com.au. #glutenfreexpoau 

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