“That’s my thing,” Jennifer Cuevas tells me, “I like to make meals and invite friends over and then at the end tell them it was gluten, grain and soy free.”
Cuevas, owner and operator of The Gluten & Grain Free Gourmet, has an obvious passion for healthy eating born out of a personal struggle with her own health. In 2010 Cuevas felt miserable on a consistent basis.
“I was really ill and didn’t realize how ill I was,” she says. “The physical evidence was obvious in pictures, but I was pre-diabetic, had high cholesterol and just didn’t feel good.”
Cuevas went to various doctors who were unable to assess what it was that was wrong before she wound up with an integrated physician. Even then, after nine months there was little progress until her doctor suggested a gluten free diet, telling Cuevas that even that innocent saltine cracker eaten on the way home from work can set her back. Despite test results showing otherwise, it became clear once Cuevas took gluten out of her diet. Her body responded positively, leading to her diagnosis of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten can lead to damage in the small intestine.
With her healthier eating habits, Cuevas was on the road to a healthier life, but it wasn’t until 2012 when she decided to go grain and soy free as well. It was, as she puts it on her website, “the key to her perfect health.” The new dietary lifestyle worked wonders. She lost weight, her cholesterol levels decreased, dangerous inflammation disappeared, there was no evidence of diabetes, and her Hashimoto’s disease (Thyroid condition) went into remission. Cuevas was inspired by the transformation.
Not long after finding the diet that was key to her health, she wanted to help others. She took certification courses so she could teach classes on dietary effects and eventually started a support group for people with certain sensitivities. The greatest obstacle, though, in achieving this healthy lifestyle is an obvious one in modern America.
“The biggest barrier to healthy eating is the food,” Cuevas says. “Once you leave my class and drive down the street there is a barrage of McDonalds, Wendy’s and drive-thru fast food restaurants…even the grocery store [has many unhealthy options].”
Cuevas recognized the service gap in the market. Becoming an expert in creating gluten-free foods and praised by her peers in her support group, Cuevas took her product to the streets, becoming a fixture at local farmers markets in Granville and New Albany.
Now Cuevas’ Gluten & Grain Free Gourmet offers a wide variety of gluten, grain, soy and dairy free products. Go to her website and you’ll find anything from gluten free “savory sausage seasoning” or “Italian dressing mix,” to gluten free and paleo snacks like “coco crazy organic chocolate no-bake cookies” and protein-rich (and delicious, per this writer’s opinion) “noco crazy original no-bake treats” made with walnuts, pure Ohio maple syrup, cashew butter, organic dates and organic coconut. You can also find gluten free flour for you own baking needs. The website is a panoply of unique gluten free, paleo and vegan products.
“The goal was to tell my story, but also give people tools to use,” Cuevas says. “For example, I have seasonings that can replace your kitchen seasonings, I have cookies so you don’t have buy gluten free cookies that are still made with processed junk. I’m pretty good at adapting things…my goal and desire is to give you a comparable, healthy alternative that will help you stay away from the junk.”
Cuevas makes sure her food is made in a dedicated gluten free facility. In addition to farmers markets and speaking engagements, Cuevas provides personal chef services. She goest to clients’ kitchens and prepares a weeks’ worth of gluten, grain and soy free meals to meet their particular needs. Cuevas is careful about the ingredients she uses as well, only buying locally-sourced, non-GMO eggs and other local, organic ingredients whenever possible.
“I try to locally source as much as I can,” she says. “If I could grow coconut, banana and chocolate here, I would be in great shape.”
When Cuevas speaks about her experiences, she speaks with a passion most entrepreneurs do, but hers is especially personal.
According to Cuevas, “If you have an idea, no one can act on your idea but you.”
When Cuevas needed support, she leaned on the staff at ECDI’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) of Ohio. The WBC supports women through all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Through one-on-one counseling sessions and training, access to unique networking services, and a professional working environment replete with amenities, women get the direction and resources to meet their goals.
“During my first meeting with Ellen [Harvey] of the Women’s Business Center, I broke down crying, saying ‘Nobody will listen to me.’ and she did, pouring so much coaching into me that it has helped me see things from a different perspective,” Cuevas says. “Both her, Jonnel [Ransom], and Patty [Tumen] have been amazingly supportive and helpful.”
The Women’s Business Center of Ohio is dedicated to helping women just like Cuevas break down barriers preventing them from achieving their goals.
Cuevas may not be exactly where she wants to be right now, but she is working hard and knows where she wants to go.
“I have a vision for something much larger, but I’m just starting with what I have,” Cuevas says. “I can’t change America’s schedule, I can’t change what you have on your plate, literally, but I can try and change the landscape of options.”
You can reach Jennifer Cuevas at 740-975-5392 or visit her website GGFGourmet.com.