Unprocessed foods include edible parts of plants (fruits, vegetables, seeds, roots, etc.) or animals, as well as fungi and algae. These can be fresh, frozen, or even fermented — the important distinction is that they have not been treated with additives, injected with salt, or rubbed with oil until they're about to be eaten. Examples include dry beans; grains like rice; fresh or dried mushrooms; meat and dairy products; seafood; plain yogurt; nuts; and spices.
Processed culinary ingredients involve a step up in production. These are ingredients made from unprocessed foods, like vegetable oils, butter, and lard. This category also includes extracted food, like honey from combs, sugar from cane, and syrup from maple trees.
Processed foods are items that get infused with ingredients like sugar, salt, and fat to help keep them edible longer. Canned fruits, fermented breads (which most breads are, as they're made with yeast), alcohol, cheese, pickles, and salted nuts all make this list.
Finally, there are ultra-processed foods. These items are designed to be ready to eat and ready to heat at a moment's notice. To make that possible, these foods are often made in a factory, broken down from their whole or fresh form and treated with thickeners, colors, glazes, and additives. They may be fried before they're packed in cans or wrappers. They might contain high-fructose corn syrup, protein isolates, or interesterified oils (replacements for trans fats, which are now widely banned). Examples of ultra-processed foods include packaged granola bars, carbonated soft drinks, candy, mass-produced breads, margarine, energy drinks, flavored yogurt, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs.
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