As we prep for bikini season, “fat” might sound like a dirty word. However, researchers are now discovering that brown fat can actually burn calories.
Brown fat vs. white fat
Think of these two fats as a good cop/bad cop scenario. White fat is the bad stuff. It stores energy and hangs out on our bodies and around our organs making us susceptible to bad things like muffin top or even diabetes. That’s why we slave away at the gym trying to destroy it.
But brown fat is packed with mitochondria (which we remember from high school biology are the cell’s powerhouse) that can burn calories, boost metabolism and create heat. Many researchers believe brown fat could be a new key to preventing obesity.
Crank up the heat
It’s the perfect time of year to learn about brown fat because its heat-generating activity is brought on by cold weather, according to the folks at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It’s even thought to be part of what helps keep mammals warm during hibernation.
Scientists always knew that babies had brown fat — it keeps them warm since they aren’t yet able to shiver. However, researchers discovered in 2009 that adults have it too, and they began to think of brown fat as an internal jacket that can keep blood warm as it flows back to the heart and brain from our chilly extremities.
Where is it in my body?
It’s often found in the neck and shoulders, as well as occasionally in the chest and down the spine, but researchers at the NIDDK said it’s truly unpredictable and varies from person to person.
Still, many researchers believe every person has at least some brown fat in their body, even if it’s tough to find.
How can I harness its power?
- Exercise: The folks at Prevention say to increase your levels of this “rare and fabulous unicorn of fat,” you need long bouts of aerobic exercise. This triggers the hormone irisin which helps convert white fat into brown.
- Regulate your hunger: Researchers at Yale also found that depriving yourself and overindulging are both bad for the brown stuff. Hunger-regulating neurons are supposed to tell our brains we’ve had enough to eat, but researchers also believe these neurons tell white fat to turn brown. When the Yale subjects ate too many or too few calories, their white fat was unable to turn brown. Eating just enough to satisfy yourself is the key.
- Chill out: Another way to activate brown fat? Head outside and start shivering. Remember that brown fat is cold-activated. Reader’s Digest recommends exercising in cool temperatures with skin exposed to ramp up brown fat production. According to an RD article, researchers have found that sitting in a 59°F room for two hours wearing summer clothing will stimulate brown fat to burn an extra 100 to 250 calories, depending on the individual. Ditto sleeping in a chill 66° bedroom.
- An apple a day: Researchers found that ursolic acid, a substance found in apple peels, cranberries, blueberries, thyme and more, increase brown fat while improving glucose tolerance.
Learn more: In his book The Diabetes Reset, Harvard research director Dr. George King discusses brown fat and other cutting-edge research as it relates to living a healthy lifestyle and treating diabetes. You can buy the book by clicking here.