Hopefully by now, you’re aware that the no/low-fat diet fad of the 1980s and ‘90s is bunk when it comes to weight loss. Fats—healthy fats—are exceptionally good for us. Those healthy fats may come from olive, coconut, flax or hemp seed oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and fish.
But it also turns out that our bodies produce two distinct types of fat, primarily based on what we eat and how active we are. And one of them, brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, may be more important to our weight loss goals than previously understood.
White fat stores excess calories for delayed sources of energy. It also releases hormones connected with our metabolism. It’s the fat connected with “being fat.” Brown fat, though, seems to be able to burn calories. Yes, a fat that burns calories.
Once thought to be mostly gone from the body by adolescence (that precious, pinchable baby fat), it turns out we actually maintain brown fat through adulthood. And scientists have discovered that lean, healthy people have more brown fat than those who are overweight or obese, who have excessive amounts of white fat.
“Brown fat is a small amount of fat, typically around the neck area, that makes up 1 percent of the fat the body has,” weight-loss specialist Dr. Peter Vash, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Center for Health Sciences at UCLA told MNN.com. “It's metabolically much more active. Brown fat burns calories to create heat. It’s found around the neck area to help heat up the blood vessels and arteries taking blood to the brain. Babies are born with much more brown fat, but the percentage decreases with age.”
Temperatures may play a role in regulating the function of brown fat. In a recent study, warmer temperatures showed an ability to slow brown fat’s role at burning calories, while environments that were colder, helped to stimulate the calorie-burning effect of brown fat.
“If you can convert white fat into brown fat, you essentially change a storage area into a burning furnace,” reports MNN. That doesn’t mean you should sleep in the walk-in freezer just yet. But scientists are looking at the possibilities of manipulating brown fat, and even ways to turn white fat into brown with medications.
But in the meantime, the healthiest way to turn that white fat storage into a brown fat furnace is to eat healthier foods and stay active. And while sleeping on ice won’t do you any good, increasing outdoor physical activity in cooler weather may help produce more brown fat. At the very least, some fresh air will do all of us some good
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