We’d be willing to wager that if you’ve attended any sort of dinner party lately, the guests included at least one person who didn’t eat gluten, another who was now vegan and probably still another who had sworn off dairy. Pleasing everyone, it seems, is becoming a sizeable challenge.

Gluten-free, lactose-free, meat-free, soy-free, egg-free, seafood-free, fat-free, caffeine-free, GMO-free, sulfite-free, peanut-free, walnut-free, sesame-free, mustard-free…. The list goes on and on. “Free” foods have indeed gained plenty of ground in recent years, and the food industry has no choice but to meet this growing customer demand. In fact, more and more customers are seeking out these foods not because they are necessarily allergic or intolerant to them, but rather in an attempt to improve their eating habits. Others are choosing free foods for ethical or ecological reasons.

Many people who do not actually “need” to eat gluten-free, lactose-free or soy-free products do so simply because they believe that these products are healthier and therefore better for them. Does that mean we should all rush to the “free” aisle of our local grocery store if we want to eat healthy or lose weight? Not exactly.

Except for individuals who are hypersensitive to these proteins (and who have actually been diagnosed with an allergy), the healthiest diet is a varied diet. Eliminating a food/food group simply because it’s the latest trend is not nutritionally sound.

It’s important to respect one’s own beliefs and intolerances without imposing too many unnecessary restrictions. Eating a balanced diet in reasonable quantities without depriving yourself needlessly is always the healthiest approach over the long run.