She’s 74, Looks 50, and Believes a Raw Vegan Diet is the Fountain of Youth

|Updated Dec 13, 2022

Karyn Calabrese is 74, yet she doesn't look a day over 50. She believes that the secret to her youthful demeanor and appearance lies in the powerful anti-aging properties that come from a raw vegan diet, which only comprises uncooked, natural, plant food in its whole form.

Calabrese's journey to a raw vegan diet and feeling like the best version of herself wasn't always smooth sailing. She likes to point out that "you can't change from A to Z overnight." In her teen years, she was a meat-eater and modeled for top national magazines and commercials. In her 20s she "fooled around with a vegetarian diet" because meat-free was the thing to do back in the Peace, Love, and Anti-War 60s. "I was a hippy chick living in New York, and many hippies were vegetarian," said Calabrese. Instead of getting into sex, drugs, and rock and roll, "I figured out that a veggie diet was the part worth holding onto."

Way before her time, Calabrese decided to eliminate dairy from her diet altogether and transitioned fully over to a vegan lifestyle, which she described as "easy" since she was more than halfway there as a vegetarian. In the '70s, a vegan diet was still a rarity, and there were far fewer options other than soy milk, and certainly no Beyond Burgers, Impossible meats, Oatly coffee creamers, or Just Eggs.

Humans are the only animals on the planet that cook their food, she points out

Calabrese was in her 30s when she met a naturopath and raw food advocate who would change her life. Calabrese learned from the research and experiences of Dr. Ann Wigmore, that many of the nutrients in foods get diminished by cooking, and so she decided to make the switch from a vegan diet to become a fully raw vegan approach. Just a few days into eating the dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds required when you go raw vegan, Calabrese felt she was destined to eat this way for the rest of her life. "Humans are the only animals on the planet that cook our food," she says now.

Calabrese explained that since adopting a raw vegan diet she has never felt better. "I have the same body measurements as I did when I was 18 years old, I completely cleared up my skin, I treated my constipation problems, and I have tons of energy, even though I sleep just four hours every night."

For Calabrese, there is no turning back, she's been a raw vegan for 40 years and continues to take care of her "greatest machine," her body. In 2000 she opened the very first raw vegan food restaurant in Chicago and added an upscale twist to the then-not-so-popular cuisine with a sophisticated ambiance, elevating raw food to a new level. Through her successes, Calabrese starred on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which expanded her brand and network. Since then, she's launched her own cookbook: Soak Your Nuts, and a website to educate others about natural living foods.

The Beet chatted with Calabrese via Zoom to learn more about her personal experience with a raw vegan diet, how to get started, advice for our readers, and powerful mantras that will motivate you to live a healthier and more fulfilling life.

The Beet: When did you go raw vegan, and why?

Karyn Calabrese: I went raw vegan close to 40 years ago. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Ann Wigmore, who was a pioneer of the raw vegan moment at the time. I went to the Optimal Health Institute in Boston, but I had met her even before that. I had been vegetarian, then I went vegan, so I had bridges on my way to raw veganism, and once I got there, there was no going back. When I was a meat-eater, all throughout my teen years, I was relatively healthy; I didn’t have weight issues, only skin issues, and constipation. Then I became a vegetarian, and I felt fabulous and then vegan and felt even better, but when I became raw, there was no comparison. I was fortunate enough to go through the stages, so I understood exactly how each type of diet made me feel.

TB: How did Dr. Wigmore inspire you to go raw vegan?

KC: I felt like I could change my biochemistry after working with her, which made it easier to continue to eat raw than just by someone lecturing me to eat this way because motivation and determination can only last so long.

TB: What’s the most significant difference you’ve felt from vegan to raw vegan?

KC: For one thing, I noticed that my emotional and physical feelings improved. I became more in tune with the world around me; I was no longer separate from the trees, soil, and nature. It’s not just a physical change, but a spiritual one.

TB: What drew you to raw veganism specifically?

KC: It was a natural evolution for me. I evolved from being a meat-eater to being a vegetarian to being vegan to being a raw vegan because I think we all intuitively know how to eat. We’re instinctual animals, so we are born knowing how and what to eat. We’ve just forgotten because the world isn’t set up to eat this way.

Becoming a raw vegan is a process of reading, learning, and realizing that it’s challenging to go from a to z overnight. When I became a raw vegan, no one had even heard of it. I have the second oldest raw food restaurant in the country. The first one was opened in Atlanta and I opened mine in Chicago about 35 years ago, called Karyn's On Green. Nobody had ever heard of raw vegan food! People would walk past my restaurant and pretend to gag and would say, “what’s she talking about? Raw vegan food?” After I was featured on Oprah’s show, everything changed. People started to learn about raw foods, and it became more popular. It’s still not mainstream, but way more people know about it compared to forty years ago.

TB: If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?

KC: I’m 74: No botox, no surgery, nothing. I have the same body I had at 18 too! I have a 24-inch waist 34-inch hip. I take a professional ballet class with girls 18 and under, and I’m 74 years old. All of the women in my family died overweight and young. That was a huge motivation for me to stay healthy.

TB: How do you teach people to eat healthier, or raw vegan?

KC: I don’t believe you can go from A to Z overnight. Your body has internal biochemistry that you can’t just change overnight. I’ve been teaching cleansing and detoxing classes for forty years, using a lot of what I learned from Dr. Winmore. I believe a good detoxification program is a way to go. If you’ve been eating dairy for a lifetime, it’s still in there, and it’s going to call for me. That’s where cravings come from. If you haven’t filled in nutritional holes, it can be challenging. There are many roads to take, so you just have to find what resonates with you.

TB: What do you typically eat in a day?

KC: I don’t categorize what I eat into three meals. We’re not born with a little tag on our foot that says feed at 9, 12, and 6. You’re supposed to eat for one reason: you’re hungry, and your cells are calling for fuel.

I start my day off with water because that’s what your body is looking for. If I feel hungry, I may have a juice or a piece of fruit. I don’t eat a lot, I always tell people to look at their fist, it's the size of their stomach and it’s tiny! People eat way too much. I make a potato or make raw bread. I eat lots of greens to make sure I get enough chlorophyll. It’s so important because it shares the same molecular structure as our blood. Today, for example, I was starving, so when I went into the restaurant, I had some salad they had made and added a little avocado. I was satisfied; I don’t believe we’re supposed to eat so that we’re full.

We’re supposed to eat to be satisfied. I’ll munch on dehydrated snacks; I prefer snacking to meals. I also only sleep four and a half hours a night. I haven’t been sick in over 40 years! I went through menopause with no symptoms. I also don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. Food isn’t a massive part of my life. I play the piano, dance, read all kinds of books. I try to live a well-rounded life that isn’t about being a raw foodist.

TB: What do you order at restaurants?

KC: I’m married to a man who is not a raw foodist or a vegan. We’ve been together for 37 years. If we go out to a restaurant, I’ll order a vegetable side dish and ask if they can serve it uncooked. I always have an avocado in my purse to add to meals, and I’ll order a salad. I carry dressings with me, or I’ll just eat before going out; I don’t wait for dinner. I don’t have a problem because I’m very comfortable. I don’t criticize or judge people for what they chose to eat. I want everybody to feel comfortable around me no matter their food choices because it’s an evolution for all of us. Nobody will listen to you if they don’t like you, so I try to stay pleasant and non-judgmental.

TB: Are you convinced raw veganism is the secret to anti-aging?

KC: 10,000 percent! You’re stepping into what God created for you; humans are the only animals that cook their food. Every animal was intended to eat raw. You get new cells every seven years and tissues every three months, so your body is in an ongoing process of recycling itself. If it gets the right material, it will recycle itself, but if it doesn’t get the suitable material, you’re going to get old, tired, overweight, and sick.

TB: Do you have any advice for The Beet readers?

KC: I want to tell people to make it a joyful journey! Get over labels, set an intention for yourself, and look at it every day. If you slip up, practice kindness to yourself, and remind yourself it’s just part of your evolution. We’re here to evolve. Enjoy your evolution; don’t make yourself miserable during the process.

TB: Do you have a mantra you live by?

KC: I pray and meditate every morning. I do an ayurvedic ceremony every morning. I just make sure I accept life the way it comes for me. It’s finding the lesson in what you're given and going over the hurdle rather than sitting behind it or trying to get around it. Find the lesson in evolving.