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Everything You Need to Know About Brown Fat

The fat you actually want comes in a different color.
Everything You Need to Know About Brown Fat


We want to lose it. We want to burn it. We want to trim it. We want to melt it off.

But fat isn’t a catch-all evil waiting to gift us with a few more doughy pounds. Recent research shows not all fat is created equal, and in fact, some fat is good for us.

Yes, in our bodies we have fat that helps us lose fat. This miracle flab is called brown fat, and here is everything you need to know about it. 

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The typical fat that clings after a few extra donuts is called “white fat.” It’s the stuff we’ve come to know and hate, and its main purpose is to store energy, says Labros Sidossis, a researcher and professor at the University of Texas Medical School.

While we can accumulate a large and unhealthy amount of white fat, our bodies only store a few grams of brown fat at the base of our neck. “We thought for many, many years that only small animals and also babies had that fat, and then it would disappear,” Sidossis says. 

But over the past decade, researchers like Sidossis discovered that brown fat doesn’t completely disappear in adult humans, and that it in fact may play an important role in boosting our metabolisms.

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Brown fat comes 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 consumption, brown fat actually burns energy.

“The reason it looks darker is because it has many more mitochondria, just like small organs and muscles, and it also has many blood vessels,” Sidossis says. 

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Babies and small animals accumulate a large amount of brown fat because it helps to regulate the body’s core temperature by producing heat. But in order to produce that heat it has to burn energy, which is why brown fat might actually be good for us.

According to new research from Sidossis and his colleagues, activated brown fat can increase our metabolism by 15%. For a typical adult that means brown fat can burn up to 300 calories a day. 

The best part? You don’t even have to move.

“To burn 300 calories you have to run three miles. If brown fat is activated, it will do the same if you just watch T.V.," Sidossis says. "This is important for someone who is conscious about losing weight.”

In his latest research, Sidossis also found that brown fat helps regulate blood sugar, an important finding for diabetics. 

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The latest research shows two ways to activate brown fat’s energy burning potential: exercise and cooling off.

For Sidossis’ study, participants who stayed in a mildly cool room – between 60 to 70 degrees – experienced the positive effects of brown fat because it reacted to the change in temperature.

“When we are exposed to cold, our body needs to do something to keep us warm and the first thing it does is produce heat,” Sidossis says. “For brown fat to produce heat it needs fuel.”

The research is so new that Sidossis is unsure why exercise also activates brown fat, but he says the best way to take advantage of it is to either stay cool or get active.


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