Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa Truffles

I am sure you have all heard about inflammation…but what exactly is inflammation and is it as bad as it is made out to be??

Note: For those of you in the Bellingham, Whatcom County Area, I will be teaching a 2-hour class on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet (including cooking demonstrations) on October 27th at the Downtown Food Co-op. Can’t wait to see you there!

Imagine accidentally poking your finger with a safety pin, or even getting a paper cut. What happens?? The site of injury usually turns red and tender, right? This is due to the response from the immune system—the immune system was alerted to the foreign invader (the safety pin/paper and bacteria found on it) and began releasing chemical mediators to help cleanse the area, kill off the bacteria that is not supposed to be there, and facilitate the healing process. If you leave the injury site alone, the swelling will gradually decrease, the site will no longer be tender, and the cut will eventually heal. This acute setting of inflammation is designed to help the body, acting as a defense system, and fostering healing. In this scenario inflammation is a GOOD thing.

However, what happens if we have chronic inflammation? When the immune system is constantly activated? For instance what if you cut yourself in the same spot every day? The spot will never heal and may even get worse over time.

Luckily we have our immune system in place to help with acute injuries or infections. BUT when the immune system is constantly activated by our diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, or even autoimmune disease it can be the fundamental denominator to chronic disease and illness. Although this may seem daunting, you CAN play a huge role in how much fuel you add to the fire.

What are some of the biggest contributors to chronic low-grade inflammation?

  • Obesity: Fat cells release inflammatory chemicals and hormones that stimulate the immune system and increase insulin resistance (1).
  • Food Allergies or Intolerances: These food proteins cause irritation to the gut lining, further fueling inflammation while reducing absorption of vital nutrients.
  • Bacterial Dysbiosis: Unfavorable ratio of good vs. bad bacteria and their toxic byproducts can cause inflammation in the gut.
  • High Stress Lifestyle: Being “stressed” causes the body to go into “fight of fight mode” releasing stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) and pro-inflammatory mediators. Both stress hormones and pro-inflammatory mediators can promote insulin resistance.
  • Sleep deprivation: Aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night can help quench inflammation.
  • Toxin Overload: Daily exposure to toxins/chemicals/molds via your work or living environment can burden your innate detox capacity causing chronic inflammation.
  • Aging: Studies have found increased levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in healthy subjects aged 55-75 vs those between 26-54 years of age, which are associated with the development of age-related conditions such as cognitive decline (1).
  • Excessive Exercising: Research has found that moderate exercise is very helpful in reducing inflammatory mediators and stress hormones (1). However excessive physical activity, without well-planned rest days and a good diet, can increase inflammation. Research studies have found that high intensity sessions longer than 20-30 minutes or low intensity sessions longer than 75 minutes can flood the body with increased stress hormones and pro-inflammatory mediators (2,3). Doing these inflammatory exercises a couple times a weeks is okay, but doing them constantly will become a source of chronic inflammation.
  • Poor Dietary Choices: more information below...
  • And more…

The Role of Diet & Inflammation: A Simple Overview

Over-Nutrition: In the Western world we have the luxury to have food available at every corner. However, often it is calorically dense and poor in overall quality nutrition. Eating more calories than required will eventually leady to weight gain and more fat tissue cells which release inflammatory hormones and chemicals.

Refined Grains & Sugars: Since refined grains and sugars are void of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals it is no surprise that they increase inflammation. Research has found that simply replacing refined wheat flour with a whole grain alternative reduces pro-inflammatory mediators in both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals (1).

 Low Fruit & Vegetable Intake: Studies have found that a diet high in fruits and vegetables significantly decreases pro-inflammatory markers (1). Researchers believe it is due to the synergistic effect of all the components found in the whole plant food. For example, if you eat a whole orange in place of drinking orange juice you will get all the beneficial goodies that have been removed during the processing of the orange, including the white pith which is rich in soluble fiber and phytochemicals.

Refined Vegetable Oils: Vegetable and seed oils are naturally very high in omega-6 an essential fatty acid responsible for the production of pro-inflammatory mediators. On the other hand omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in cold water fatty fish, some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds, and algae, produce anti-inflammatory mediators. Interestingly these fatty acids compete for the same enzymes. Therefore, if you have a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids, the enzymes will naturally produce much more pro-inflammatory mediators than anti-inflammatory mediators due to favorable omega-6 ratio. Research has found that a ratio of 3-4:1 of omega 6 to omega-3 is optimal. However, the Western Diet is often reflective of a 15-20:1 ratio! Simply reducing your intake of foods high in omega-6 and increasing your intake of omega-3 rich foods, will help increase the anti-inflammatory action of these enzymes.

Note: Trans-fats (often found in baked goods, also known as partially hydrogenated oils) should be avoided at all costs as these have been found to significantly increase inflammatory markers at a rate much higher than other oils (1).

Diet Sodas & “Sugar-Free" Beverages: Researchers have found that the regular consumption of non-caloric sweeteners including saccharine, sucralose, and aspartame influenced unfavorable changes in the bacterial communities in both mice and humans. These microbial changes increased glucose intolerance and may possibly promote weight gain (4). Researchers state, “Artificial sweeteners may have no calories, but mounting evidence indicates that they do have metabolic consequences and may not be the solution for having a sweet taste without the calories”(5).

Food Allergies & Intolerances: Addressing food allergies and intolerances is a very important in reducing systemic inflammation. For example, if you are intolerant to gluten or dairy and continue to eat foods containing these proteins, you will continue to aggravate your gut lining. This is similar to constantly getting a sliver in the same spot in your finger. If you do not remove the food allergen, the gut cannot heal, and chronic inflammation will continue to cause unfavorable systemic consequences. 

There are many foods that have been highlighted as anti-inflammatory superstars including flaxseeds, walnuts, and cocoa! (If you are coming to my class on October 27th you will learn all about these and many more!) Therefore, I have created a whole foods chocolate truffle treat that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and uses only whole grains, natural sweeteners, and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Each truffle contains 0.6g of plant based omega-3 fatty acids, meeting 38-55% of the Recommended Dietary Intakes of 1.1-1.6g of ALA (omega-3) per day!

Although these treats are delicious and tasty alternatives to baked goods rich in seed oils, refined grains and sugars, please don’t rely solely on these treats for your omega-3 (ALA) daily intake. Aim to add more omega-3 rich foods into your diet via cold-water fish, flaxseeds/flaxseed oil and/or walnuts while simultaneously reducing foods rich in omega-3 (LA) such as refined vegetable and seed oils and grain-fed animal meats.

Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa Truffles
Makes 14

1 cup walnut halves (divided)
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
2 tablespoons melted extra virgin coconut oil
4 tablespoons raw honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea salt
Toppings: coconut flakes, cocoa powder, hemp seeds, etc.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. On a baking sheet pour the oats on one side and the walnuts on the other side. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Chop about half of the roasted walnuts, to make 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts. Save the other half to sprinkle on your morning oatmeal or to toss into salads.

Place the cooled toasted rolled oats and the flaxseeds into a high-speed blender. Blend until the oats turn into flour.

Meanwhile in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, the raw honey, the dark cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and sea salt until smooth. Stir in the oat flour mixture and the roasted walnuts.

Using your hands form a large “dough” ball. Then make your own individual nut truffle balls. I usually make about 14 from one batch. Roll each ball in your choice of topping (I like dried coconut flakes the best). Store in a container in the refrigerator.

P.S. If you want to get extra fancy melt your favorite dark chocolate in a double boiler, dunk each truffle into the chocolate, and then roll in your favorite topping! It adds one more step but an extra layer of chocolate increases the decadence factor by 10!

Note: The flavor gets better once the truffles are completely chilled. I usually make them in the evening and then have my first truffle the next day. 
1. Calder PC, Ahluwalia N, Brouns F, et al. Dietary factors and low-grade inflammation in relation to overweight and obesity. British Journal of Nutrition. 2011;106(S3).
2. Borer, K.T. 2003. Exercise Endocrinology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
3. Tiidus, P.M. 2008. Skeletal Muscle Damage and Repair. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
4. J. Suez et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014;514:181-186. 
5. Azvolinsky A. Sugar Substitutes, Gut Bacteria, and Glucose Intolerance. Accessed October 8, 2015.

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