Heart Health: Cacao for Inflammation

Cup of cocoa with cocoa powder on the side and whipped cream on the side

Cacao is one of the most Divine treats I give myself regularly. It’s full of antioxidants, making it one of the healthier indulgences we can choose, and the stimulation it offers is mild as compared to coffee or even cola. According to recent studies, cacao is among the more heart-healthy and bad cholesterol reducing treats available, too.

Researchers Connect Cacao to Vascular Health and More

The past decade or so has seen a ton of research on cacao, cocoa, and chocolate. The results have been well-reported across loads of health and wellness publications along with scientific, nutritional, and even business journals. The short of it is that researchers are finding cacao’s antioxidants, called flavanols, are linked to increased circulation, decreased systemic inflammation, increased cognition and memory, and decreased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Cacao, in general, has been shown to help the nervous system relax while offering mild stimulation akin to the level of stimulation Rosemary Essential Oil offers.

When viewed as a whole, researchers aren’t quite as clear on how well cacao accomplishes all the results attributed to it. According to a recent meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition, some studies covered chocolate, others cocoa, and still others cacao. The difference between the three is an important one when you’re looking for more than a tasty treat.

Chocolate, Cocoa, Cacao…What’s the Difference?

Chocolate, perhaps the most popular and familiar of the three, blends fat, sugar, and cocoa into a tasty treat of varying intensity. Darker chocolates have more cocoa, and thus potentially more flavanols, than milk or lighter chocolates. Cocoa is the results of processing cacao beans, also called nibs, to remove some of the natural fats (cacao butter). Processing methods for creating cocoa vary, which has a lot to do with the variability of flavanol levels across cocoas. Cacao is the bean of the Theobroma cacao tree. It’s the purest, most natural version of the three.

Some studies indicated that cacao is the best bet if you’d like to tap into the optimal health benefits. One study suggested that dairy products taken with cacao reduced the effects, while other studies suggested that it doesn’t matter considerably whether you take yours as chocolate, cocoa (with milk), or cacao in the most traditional form possible. I believe the best medicine is the one you’ll take…and hopefully enjoy!

Cacao Meets Ayurveda’s Finest: Ghee

That’s why I like to indulge in a variety of cacao recipes, including this one for cocoa + ghee. Ghee, which is, indeed, a dairy product, is also called purified butter. Making ghee is simple; you just melt butter and let it simmer until all of the milk-solids (which create the slightly sour taste in butter that’s often imperceptible or nearly so) have browned and fallen away from the oils and fats. The strained results are ghee.

According to Ayurvedic tradition, ghee is generally healthy across all body and constitution types. It’s considered neutralizing and supportive of all constitution types, helping to improve memory and cognition, improve digestion, and even enhance sexuality. Phenolic antioxidant acids, which are the abundant antioxidants found in ghee, are linked with protection from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and a variety of degenerative neurological diseases, which supports many of the traditional uses practitioners of Ayurveda have relied on for centuries. In my mind, that makes ghee the perfect partner for cacao.

In my practice, well being comes from making the often subtle and small shifts in lifestyle that support long-term health. A regular dose of cacao is key to my own lifestyle, as I hope it can become to yours. This recipe for Ghee+Cocoa can help you on your way. Enjoy!

Decadent Heart-Healthy Cocoa

The key to making a truly decadent cocoa, in my opinion, is to combine a tasty fat with caramelized sugar in the process. Old European recipes often included a nub of butter, which is about a tablespoon or so. I’ve included butter many times over, but ghee makes a nuttier and potentially healthier choice. If you have access to organic, fair trade cacao butter, you may want to give that a try. In my North American climate, organic butter is far more accessible, so that’s my personal choice. Caramelizing the sugar gives it a rich, slightly nutty flavor akin to that of caramel. In cocoa, it adds a new, rich layer of flavor I love.


  • 1/4 tsp. cardamon
  • 3 Tbsp. cocoa
  • 1-2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp ghee
  • Dash cinnamon
  • 10 oz. soy milk or similar


  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Whisk for stirring
  • Pot and heat source


  1. Melt the Ghee.
  2. Caramelize the brown sugar, whipping it with the whisk to ensure it’s well combined.
  3. Add the cocoa and spices. Whisk the mixture until it’s well blended.
  4. Add the soy milk a splash at a time, whisking it into the cocoa paste thoroughly until all the soy milk has been added.
  5. Whisk the mixture until it’s frothy and heated thoroughly.
  6. Pour your hot cocoa into a mug and enjoy.

Other ideas

Substitute chili pepper, nutmeg, or ginger for cardamon if you want a more heating, spicy cocoa. For a less spicy cocoa, try fennel, lavender, or peppermint instead of cardamon. (Cardamon is mildly heating.)


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