Glutton for Gluten

by Mary Catherine Cochran

You’ve probably heard the saying…“If you’re lucky enough to be Irish…well then- you’re lucky enough.” Descended from Flanagans, O’Keefe’s, Lynches and Kelly’s I am unequivocally Irish. My genes give me an appreciation for salt air and green fields, for sad songs and joyful dancing. They also give me a predisposition to celiac disease. A little over a year ago my physician, who knew that one of my siblings had been diagnosed with celiac disease, ordered diagnostic tests as a part of my annual physical. The bad news is that I tested positive on all of the tests but the good news is that celiac disease can be successfully managed by eliminating gluten from your diet.

Going Gluten Free

The first days and months eliminating all things gluten were tough, basic staples such as sandwiches, breakfast cereals and pretzels became a thing of the past. Reading nutrition labels in search of hidden sources of gluten became a required practice and ensuring that I covered all my nutritional bases was a chore. Dining out became difficult as I became one of those annoying folks who had to torque the restaurant menu to fit her own personal requirements. And, as for a cold Smithwicks or Guinness at the end of the day, well, as my grandfather Flanagan would say…“Faghedaboutit!”

Gradually things became easier. I made a list of foods I knew I could eat that I relied on until I learned more about the new diet. Great online resources for eating gluten free, unavailable just a few short years ago when my brother was diagnosed were available to help me make the transition. Local resources like the Roots market in Clarksville and David’s Natural Market in Columbia became my new ‘go-to’ places for gluten-free shopping. I joined a Howard County CSA to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits which assumed a much bigger role in my diet.  I became a pro at reading nutritional labels and gluten-free substitutes replaced the gluten rich staples. Gluten-free oatmeal or a protein smoothie instead of Cheerios for breakfast and a salad or corn tortilla wrap instead of a sandwich for lunch or dinner became the new standards.

I can safely say that I am no longer a glutton for gluten. My triglycerides have dropped like a rock and I feel great. There is only one downside, I still miss Guinness. There are no palatable gluten-free beers, but I remain hopeful that the leprechauns are working on it.



What is Celiac Disease? Celiac’s is a sensitivity to gluten- a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The disease mainly affects the small bowel and large intestine and, if left untreated, can cause significant problems. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, celiac’s affects about 1 in every 100 Americans and the number is higher in people who have relatives with the disease.

If you suspect you may have celiac disease or a gluten insensitivity, contact your physician or one of our Howard County General, Johns Hopkins medicine gastroenterologists for more information about testing and diagnosis. 


Mary Catherine Cochran is a big believer in communications and the critical role that it plays in community building.  (Although she is still adjusting to doing it in 140 characters or less!) When she isn’t busy truncating the message, she works as a Senior Communications Project Manager at Howard County General Hospital: Johns Hopkins Medicine where, among other things, she manages and writes for the Well & Wise blog.


  1. There are some really cool Chicago-based microbrews that are working on mixing an enzyme in that destroys gluten in beer. They have some test samples that we tried and they are quite good! Palatable beer is on the way :)

    • I can’t wait! I picked up one recently that was listed as gluten free- only to read the label more closely to see that it was not.


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