The fat that may be good for you


When we think of ‘‘body fat’’ we typ­i­cally con­jure up im­ages of love han­dles and soft bits, we cer­tainly don’t con­sider this con­cept pos­i­tively.

How­ever, not all ‘‘body fat’’ is equal. Un­like white fat – which makes up the vast ma­jor­ity of the fat in our bod­ies and is used to store any ex­cess en­ergy we con­sume – brown fat (brown adi­pose tis­sue) ac­tu­ally burns en­ergy and pro­duces heat (un­der the right con­di­tions). In fact, when fully ac­ti­vated, brown fat gen­er­ates sig­nif­i­cantly more heat than any other tis­sue in the body.

Brown fat is typ­i­cally lo­cated in the sides of the neck – some­times run­ning down into the shoul­der and up­per arms – and in the re­gion just above the col­lar­bone. Other com­mon lo­ca­tions in­clude the up­per back be­tween the shoul­der blades and along the sides of the up­per spine.

It’s packed with mi­to­chon­dria – the power sources for our cells – which give it a darker shade. While reg­u­lar white fat pas­sively stores en­ergy from our ex­cess en­ergy con­sump­tion, brown fat burns en­ergy. Ba­bies and small an­i­mals ac­cu­mu­late a large amount of brown fat be­cause it helps reg­u­late the body’s core tem­per­a­ture by pro­duc­ing heat. In or­der to pro­duce that heat it has to burn en­ergy, which is why brown fat might ac­tu­ally be good for us.

Over the past decade, re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that brown fat doesn’t com­pletely dis­ap­pear in adult hu­mans, and that it in fact may play an im­por­tant role in our me­tab­o­lism. Re­search sug­gests that most, if not all adults, have small pock­ets of brown fat.

So how can you sup­port brown fat?

The best ways are to move reg­u­larly and sec­ondly, to utilise cooler tem­per­a­tures.

Cooler tem­per­a­tures

No­body likes to be very cold, but re­search sug­gests ex­pos­ing your­self to cooler tem­per­a­tures helps in­crease brown body fat. Due to the fre­quent use of air con­di­tion­ers and heat­ing sys­tems in­doors, plus the dou­ble whammy of less time spent out­side in na­ture, a gen­eral lack of ex­po­sure to tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tion could be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to low brown fat con­cen­tra­tion.

A sim­ple way to ex­pose your­self to cooler tem­per­a­tures is to blast your­self with cold water at the end of your shower – it will also go a long way to­wards wak­ing you up!


We know reg­u­lar move­ment has been shown to in­crease ac­tiv­ity of brown fat – not to men­tion the ben­e­fits that reg­u­lar move­ment has for your me­tab­o­lism and body com­po­si­tion in gen­eral. Ev­i­dence sug­gests that mov­ing fre­quently can have a pos­i­tive ef­fect of the re­lease of hor­mones, which con­trol body fat and lean mus­cle mass de­vel­op­ment.

Eat­ing to sati­ety

Work on get­ting to know your in­ter­nal hunger sig­nals and on ad­dress­ing emo­tional or stress eat­ing. Over-eat­ing con­fuses the pro­cesses that con­trol hunger hor­mones, which can lead to ex­tra white fat stor­age and can raise the risk for many other health prob­lems.

At the same time, you don’t want to un­der-eat either. When you aren’t con­sum­ing enough en­ergy, brown fat ac­ti­va­tion might be slowed down, this can have other neg­a­tive ef­fects on your meta­bolic rate, too. Try eat­ing un­til you are just full, this gen­er­ally re­quires us to slow down.

Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and speaker. The ad­vice con­tained in this col­umn is not in­tended to be a sub­sti­tute for di­rect, per­son­alised ad­vice from a health pro­fes­sional. Join Dr Libby for her up­com­ing ‘Sort Your Sleep’ New Zealand tour, for more in­for­ma­tion or to buy tick­ets visit dr­


A sim­ple way to ex­pose your­self to cooler tem­per­a­tures is to blast your­self with cold water at the end of your shower.

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