This is one of the most common arguments among people on vegan, or plant based diets. Many of those on raw vegan swear by it and claim it provides the ultimate in nutrition.
There are several variables and the question can not be answered with a simple yes, or no. The “devil is in the details”, as is the case with many other dilemmas in life.
Before getting to those details, first two relevant facts needs to be pointed out. One is that a vegan diet isn’t always healthy. A vegan diet means not eating animal foods and dairy, but it could include processed, sugary, unhealthy foods in excessive amounts. The following assumes, that this is taken into consideration.
Related: Vegan Myths and Misconceptions
Secondly, what is being discussed here, is the small stuff. If you are on a vegan (plant based) diet, you are eating healthier, than 94% of the US population (stats for 2017), no matter what version of a vegan diet you are on.
Raw vs. Cooked Considerations:
Non-raw vegans also eat many foods raw. Fruits are typically eaten raw, so are many vegetables. No one cooks their lettuce before eating their salad. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, cabbage all taste good and many people prefer eating them raw.
The main benefit of a raw vegan diet is more nutrients. But that isn’t always the case. Cooking increases some of the antioxidant content, like lutein and lycopene. Cooking carrots multiply their antioxidant levels threefold!
Raw food retains more nutrients, but cooked food is easier to digest and more of the nutrients are available for the body. It’s not what we eat, it’s what we absorb.
Steaming is a great option, less nutrients are cooked out of the veggies. Also, the nutrients that are lost, end up in the water. You can drink the water, or use it to cook rice to reduce vitamin and mineral loss.
Some vegetables, like kale are not palatable raw. However, when steamed, it tastes really good. That way, more can be consumed, which easily makes up for the possible nutrient loss.
If cooked vegetables are added to a diet, rich in raw foods, they will enhance it, rather than reduce its nutrient content.
Some vegetables, like legumes can hardly be eaten raw. A strictly raw diet makes it next to impossible to benefit from this protein and nutrition rich vegan food source.
Raw and cooked vegan diets both have their own benefits, thus the combination of both is the most beneficial.