What’s This Thing Called “Brown Fat”?

When you’re talking about weight loss the “F word” is fat and we hate it with a passion despite the fact that fats are essential for life. But there is new talk (well, maybe not that new) making the rounds in the scientific world that some fats may actually help us burn more calories. Yep. You read that right. Having the right kind of fat can help us burn more calories and stay trimmer.

“Hibernoma2” by Nephron – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Thermogenic Brown Adipose Tissue

What kind of fat is that? It’s called “brown fat”. What’s so special about it? Well, the regular fat that we don’t like (also known as white fat), is only an energy store and it makes us look unsightly if we have too much of it. Brown fat, on the other hand, has the ability to generate heat (and burn calories).

It used to be thought that only babies had brown fat, but now we know that adults can have some too. The more of it you have, the lower your BMI is likely to be.

So how do we increase our brown fat?

According to WebMD:

Turn your thermostat down a few degrees, or possibly take a brisk walk in the winter. Evidence shows that as the temperature drops, the amount of calorie-burning brown fat goes up. But experts say there may not be a recommended temperature, and the impact of how long you stay in the cold isn’t clear.

Sadly, it doesn’t bode well for those of us who live in tropical countries because it would appear that warmer temperatures suppress brown fat growth. That said, even if you do live in a cold climate, brown fat is not a magic bullet. While it can help to increase our metabolic rate, it won’t make a big difference without the combined effort of diet and exercise because it may only help us burn an extra 300 to 400 calories a day.

Red ApplesAccording to Prevention, these are some other ways to increase brown fat:

  • Don’t starve yourself or overeat because too few calories prevents white fat from turning brown, while overeating increases white fat and interferes with the action of brown fat
  • Eat apples (with their skin) – ursolic acid found in apple peel boosts brown fat
  • Exercise triggers the release of irisin which prompts white fat to convert to brown fat
  • Turn down the thermostat in winter
  • Increase the body’s melatonin production by avoiding nighttime exposure to light from TVs, computers and other screens, getting sunlight exposure during the day, and loading up on melatonin-rich foods, including almonds, tomatoes, tart cherries, cardamom, and coriander

The bottom line

While the idea of brown fat sounds lovely and the advice for increasing brown fat are probably good practices to maintain anyway, we still need to stick to a sensible diet and exercise regimen if our goal is to lose weight.