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About The Coconut Diet

The Coconut Diet was started through the efforts of Brian and Marianita Shilhavy.

Marianita Jader Shilhavy, CND (Certified Nutritionist/Dietician in the Philippines) earned her bachelor of science degree in nutrition at Centro Escolar University in Manila. Understanding the nutrition of Filipino foods, Marianita worked for over eight years as a hospital dietician and nutritional counselor in the Philippines, using her knowledge of Asian foods to help people recover from illness.

Brian W. Shilhavy, BA, MA
Brian earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible/Greek from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and his Master of Arts degree in linguistics from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. He is currently the CEO of Tropical Traditions, Inc.

In 1998 Marianita and Brian returned to the Philippines with their three children and renovated the old family farmhouse. By this time the coconut industry was severely depressed due to the negative U.S. campaigns against tropical oils in the 1980s and 1990s. Coconut farmers could no longer support their families on the income generated from harvesting coconuts. They are the authors of the Tropical Traditions best-selling book, Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people's lives, and how it can change yours!, with over 80,000 copies in print.

Marianita’s Story

I grew up in the Philippines during the 1960s and 1970s. My family lived in a small rural community of about 100 families. We lived on the side of a mountain, and everybody in our community earned their living from agriculture, primarily coconuts.

My father was a farmer, and his main crop was coconuts. He had some rice plantations and grew some other crops, and he was also the principal of our local government elementary school. But his main source of income in the 1960s and early 1970s was from coconuts. He made more money from the sale of his coconuts than he did as a school principal, for example. In the Philippines, the government provides education through 6th grade only in many places. High school and college are usually privately run and beyond the cost of most of the poor. My father sent all eight of his children to high school and college through the profits of the coconut industry, producing 3 school teachers, 1 nurse, 1 medical doctor, and myself, a nutritionist/dietician.

The people in our farming community while I was growing up primarily ate food that they had grown or raised themselves. Our diet consisted mainly of rice, coconuts, vegetables and root crops, herbs (especially garlic and ginger), and some meat that was raised locally. Trips to the market were made once a week to buy primarily fresh fish caught in the ports nearby. While my parents’ generation would have grinded their own rice by hand, leaving in tact most of the bran and nutrients, after World War II during my time rice mills starting popping up making it easier to mill rice. The first mills used in my day were “crude,” and did not polish the rice, so we basically still ate healthy grains which today would be considered low-carb. Later, the mills became more sophisticated and began to polish the rice making it bright white. All of our food back then would be considered “organic” by today’s standards, as we had no access to chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Living in a tropical climate, our animals, such as chickens, cows, goats, etc., all grazed on natural green vegetation.

Coconut and coconut oil was used daily. My parents’ generation made coconut oil by hand using either the boiling or fermentation method. After World War II desiccated coconut plants and coconut oil mills were established for the booming baking industry in the US. Refined coconut oil started to make its way into the local economy as well, but at that time even the refined coconut oil made from copra (dried coconut meat) was done through a mechanical pressing that did not use solvent extracts. While some people still made coconut oil the “old fashioned” way, many began buying the cheaper, odorless coconut oil in the markets. Our natural diet was definitely a high-fat diet, a diet high in the saturated fat of coconut oil.

So what was the health of the people like in our community, where everyone ate a diet high in the saturated fat of coconut oil? Our community was part of a larger community of some 50,000 people that was served by a single government doctor in those days. While pharmaceuticals began to be manufactured in the Philippines after World War II, people in communities like ours could not afford them. We had our own traditions of dealing with simple sicknesses using local herbs and coconut oil. When people did go to town to visit the local government doctor, it was usually not for the kind of ailments that westerners go to the doctor today, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, etc. These illnesses were virtually unknown in my younger days. People went to see the doctor to treat wounds, or from sicknesses common in the tropics, such as malaria, diarrhea, dengue, etc. My father was well into his 60s before he made his first visit to the doctor, and that was for a head wound. He died in the late 1980s in a car accident in the U.S. He was in his 70s and in perfect health. Three of his older sisters still survive him to this day and are in great health. One is in her 90s. One of his sisters, my aunt, is in her late 80s and still lives in the remote area of the Philippines where I grew up, eating a traditional diet. She taught us how her generation made coconut oil by hand, which is the basis for the Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil, the most popular Virgin Coconut Oil sold in the U.S. She still shuns modern conveniences (such as electricity) and eats mostly all food that she herself has grown on her farm, and she has excellent health. Her first visit to a doctor was when she was in her early 80s. I myself have no memory of being sick growing up. I suffered my first “cold” when I was in my 30s, after I married my American husband and spent a year in the U.S. eating typical U.S. food found in grocery stores.

This picture of life in the rural Philippines is typical of those who grew up in my generation or my parents’ generation, eating traditional foods with an abundance of saturated fat found in coconut oil. Sadly, it is no longer true today. Since the mid-1970s demand for coconut oil fell so low that coconut farmers could no longer afford to support their family on the income of coconut harvests. Many people left the farms and went to the cities to find better employment, and soon adopted new dietary trends similar to western diets. Cheaper mass-produced industrial foods, particularly meats, now replace most of the local traditional foods we used to grow or raise ourselves. Snack foods and other fast foods are now made with hydrogenated coconut oil to keep it solid at the high air temperatures experienced in our tropical climate. The rice is now polished and grown with chemical fertilizers, and soft drinks loaded with refined sugars are found on every street corner, replacing the natural “buko juice”, the water from the inside of the coconuts, that my generation grew up drinking. Even the coconut water drinks still sold are usually loaded with refined sugars. Our traditional, high-fat low-carb diet has been replaced with many refined high-carb substitutes. Growing up it was very rare to see anyone considered overweight, and almost never considered “obese”, but even that is changing now as the diet has changed also.

Brian's Story

When we first moved to Marianita’s home area where she grew up in the Philippines, I was struck by the simplicity of life and how the rural Filipino in a farming community lived in the 21st century. They still used water buffalo as their draft animal for plowing, for example. They were hard-working people with a rich history and culture. I felt privileged to be able to live there as a foreigner, and to allow my children to grow up in their mother’s culture and learn their mother’s language.

Having been issued a free visa by the Philippine government for our first year in the Philippines under the “Balik Bayan” program instituted by former President Ramos, we began to apply for permanent residency in the Philippines for our second year there. One of the things I had to do to meet this requirement was pass a simple physical exam. I was in relatively good health, other than the fact that I had taken antibiotics (tetracycline) off and on for many years for a chronic acne problem I had. While I had some concerns about long-term use of antibiotics in the back of my mind, every time I addressed those concerns with various doctors I was told that many people used tetracycline for long periods of time to deal with acne problems. So when it came time for my physical exam, I was “on” a prescription of antibiotics. But my blood test revealed an infection in my body, a urinary tract infection. I was stunned, as it seemed the antibiotics were losing their effectiveness on me. I decided then and there that it was time to take responsibility for my health, and to stop relying on drugs and doctors. I went on a juice fast and the infection left.

Meanwhile, I was astounded by the health of the older generation that lived in this rural farming community. There was one old man that was over 100 years old and still walked down the mountain to town and back once a week on market day. My wife’s aunt was in her 80s and in excellent health. Many other older people that you would normally see in nursing homes in the U.S. at their age were living full and active lives in this community. So I started studying their dietary habits and their herbal traditions as well. We began making changes to our own dietary habits, and using some of the herbs that grew wild on the mountain. We started making our own herbal products and marketing them locally.

During my research I decided to see what I could find out about coconut oil, the main dietary fat that everyone in this community consumed. I had always been taught that this was a “bad” fat, but here was a community of older people that did not seem to be dying from all the supposed bad effects of coconut oil I had always heard about. My research astounded me, especially the writings of Dr. Mary Enig.

When I first read about these health benefits of coconut oil, I asked my Marianita, who grew up on a coconut plantation in the Philippines, if there was a more natural way to extract the oil from the coconut, so that we didn't have to buy the refined coconut oils found in all the stores in the Philippines. She said there was a method the older generation used to extract the oil by grating the fresh coconut, extracting the coconut milk, and then letting the coconut milk stand in a covered bucket for about 24 hours. After 24-36 hours, the oil naturally separates from the water producing a crystal clear oil that retains the full scent and taste of coconuts. So we started making our coconut oil that way and using it for our cooking needs with our three children. We called it “Virgin Coconut Oil,” because it was so different from the refined products we could buy in the stores. We couldn't believe how great it tasted, and how healthy we felt. We had been living on Mt. Banahaw for almost two years by that time, and in the year 2000 telephone service was provided to our rural farming community, allowing me to put up a website about our Philippine Herbs. I also put up a website highlighting the research and truth about how healthy coconut oil really was. I decided to put our Virgin Coconut Oil up on the website, not really expecting people to order it because it was a bit expensive since we had to hire people to make the oil, and shipping to the U.S. cost quite a bit because of the weight. There was also all that negative propaganda against coconut oil that was accepted as fact in the US. We were so surprised when people started ordering, and then re-ordering it because they felt so great after using it! They told us there was no other coconut oil like it on the market.

I wanted to drop you a quick note to tell you how great your Virgin Coconut Oil is!  I have been on your product now for about 6 months and consume approximately 3 tablespoons per day.  In just a short amount of time I noticed a higher level of energy, and I have lost weight!  I also apply it to my skin and hair and people have commented on how beautiful my hair and skin look!  I also get these open cuts in the winter along the cracks of my finger and fingernails and they bleed and are very painful, but when I apply your coconut oil the night before to these open wounds it dries them up and heals them overnight!  Your product is definitely a miracle food and I highly recommend it to others.  I have tried  a lot of other brands prior to using yours and have not gotten the same results that  I have using your Virgin Coconut Oil so it's definitely the best coconut oil I have found  on the market! Thank you and keep up the good work! Best regards. Roger Phoenix, AZ

Before long we had businesses contacting us asking how to order our Virgin Coconut Oil in bulk. There were very few places in the US even carrying any kind of coconut oil, and the few that did exist were only marketing it for cosmetic purposes. It was almost impossible to find a good quality edible coconut oil, and none that were what we called “Virgin.” So we discussed how we could mass produce this kind of oil and almost abandoned the product because we didn't want to lose the traditional way of making it. In the end, we decided to just keep making it the same way, by having other coconut farming families in our community also make the oil the traditional way.

So we set out to revive the old traditions of Marianita’s parents’ generation by once again making a natural, chemical-free coconut oil. Marianita developed a system that trained families in traditional coconut oil production according to strict organic standards. This gave them an opportunity to produce this natural oil to meet new demands for this product in the U.S. and around the world. Today there are hundreds of families in the Philippines once again earning enough money from coconuts to support their families. They are independent business owners, and not laborers.

We are traveling healers. We work mainly in California and the western United States. Our work is a synthesis of techniques from around the world. We first used coconut oil in Manaoag when we were studying with Marcos Orbito.  Once we returned to the United States, we could not find a wonderful coconut oil like the one we used in the Philippines. When we discovered Tropical Traditions it was like a gift from God. The oil is so pure and smells so wonderful. Although we bought it for our healing work, it soon became a staple in our diets and in our bathroom. Now our clients are using it to eliminate Candida from their systems, restore health to their hair and vibrancy to their skin. We are continuing to learn about the many benefits of this wonderful oil. We can't imagine not having it in our pantry and on the road with us. Not only is this is the only oil we use for our work, it is the primary oil we use in our kitchen. Thank you Tropical Traditions you have been a life saver. Morningstar and Michael

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