Fat often gets a bad reputation. Maybe you follow a low-fat diet because you get told that’s how you lose weight. While some fats, such as trans fats and lard, are bad for you, other fats are part of a healthy diet and essential for optimal health. Brown fat is something you likely hear more about these days, yet it’s not the type of fat you would use to cook food. So, what is it? And are brown fat cells good or bad?
Brown fat, which is brown in color, is a type of heat-generating, metabolically-active fat cell in your body. Until recently, scientists believed brown fat was only found in rodents and human infants. However, recent scientific research has discovered that brown fat is found in adults, too. I will tell you all about brown fat, foods that activate brown fat cells, and whether brown fat is good or bad. Let’s begin by discussing what brown fat is.
What is Brown Fat?
What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word “fat?” The term “fat” is broadly used to describe body fat. The reality is that there are three different types of body fat, some are good, and others are bad. Don’t worry. I will tell you the difference in just a second.
Some types of body fat negatively affect your health and contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. Other types are beneficial and necessary for your health.
The primary fat cells are white, brown, and beige and are stored as essential, subcutaneous, or visceral fat.1 Let’s take a look at these three types of body fat.
White fat is the type of fat most people immediately think of. This type of fat is made up of large, white cells stored under the skin and around organs in your gut, arms, butt, and thighs. Your body stores energy in white fat cells for use later when it runs out of energy from your food.
Some white fat is necessary for optimal health. White fat cells play a role in the function of hormones including estrogen, insulin, cortisol, human growth hormone, and leptin, a hormone that stimulates hunger. Hormones are secreted from white fat cells to regulate insulin response to eating food. However, too much white fat is bad for you.
Too much white fat can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, hormone imbalances, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer.
Beige fat, also known as brite fat, is fat cells in the process of browning. These types of fat cells carry functions of both white fat cells and brown fat cells, which I’ll discuss in just a minute. While scientists know little about beige fat cells, some studies suggest that brown fat helps burn fat cells rather than store them.2
Scientists also believe that beige fat contains certain hormones and digestive enzymes when you are stressed, cold, or during exercise, facilitating the conversion of white fat to beige fat.
Brown fat is adaptive tissue that stores energy in smaller spaces than white fat. It gets its color from its large volume of iron stores. It’s the type of fat your body uses to keep warm in cold weather and the kind that helps newborns regulate body temperatures.3 It is your body’s built-in heater from birth, and you lose most of it as you age.
Brown fat has sparked interest among researchers who have discovered its ability to use regular body fat as fuel. Early studies are hopeful about harnessing the power of brown fat for weight loss purposes.4
Brown fat is also richer in mitochondria than white fat cells. Mitochondria is what generates most of the energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions, such as regenerating dead cells, storing calcium, and producing heat.
What’s more, mitochondria consume sugar and white fat, breaking them down and churning them into energy. Optimizing mitochondrial health, however, is shown to have positive changes in metabolic wellness and support weight loss.
One way to “turn on” this mitochondrial-rich brown fat is through exposure to cold and exercise, which is why cryotherapy is so popular.
Is Brown Fat Good or Bad for You?
You might assume brown fat is good for you, and you’re right. Brown fat is the spotlight of current research as it appears to use regular “white fat” as fuel, and brown fat boosts your metabolism, which supports weight loss.
We know brown fat helps boost your metabolism, breaking down blood sugar and white fat to warm you up and create energy. And “turning on” brown fat via cold exposure or exercise releases hormones that, in turn, give your metabolism a boost and burn calories.5 Activating brown fat cells will cause your body to burn white fat cells. So, it makes sense that one way to activate brown fat cells is through exercise.
How to Activate Brown Fat Cells
Three effective ways to activate brown fat cells are through diet, exercise, and exposing your body to cold temperatures.
Exposing your body to cool and even cold temperatures may help recruit more brown fat cells. Some research suggests that just 2 hours of exposure each day to temperatures around 66 degrees Fahrenheit may be enough to turn white fat cells into brown.6
You may consider taking a cold shower or ice bath. Turning the thermostat down a few degrees in your home or going outside in cold weather are other ways to cool your body and possibly create more brown fat.
Cryotherapy has proven weight loss benefits. The extreme temperatures activate brown fat cells and facilitate a healthy metabolism because your body needs the energy from white fat cells to increase body temperature and protect itself from hypothermia.7
Ice bath therapy is a cool wellness trend involving plunging in cold water roughly 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 2 minutes. Many versions of this type of therapy include jumping into a cold tub and getting right out. The benefit is that it stimulates the lymphatic system and adrenal glands; however, it also activates brown fat tissue in the same way as cryotherapy.
Exercise and diet are crucial for optimal health. Moving your body 30 minutes every day has numerous health benefits, including weight loss. When your body runs out of energy and taps reserves, it will activate brown fat to burn white cells for energy.8 As for your diet, certain foods activate brown fat.
What Foods Increase Brown Fat?
We enter the world with plenty of brown fat to keep us warm and gradually lose it as we age. By adulthood, we have very little brown fat left. However, we can take steps to get some back. Certain foods and supplements have shown to “wake up” brown fat and increase mitochondrial health — a.k.a boost calorie burn. Let’s explore some of them.
Green tea is primarily known for its antioxidant content due to its high levels of catechins, a powerful antioxidant found in berries, tea, and coca. The most important catechin found in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which doubles as a free radical scavenger and fat burner. EGCG is a powerful fat-burning accelerator that revs up your metabolism and boosts your energy levels. Green tea revs up the browning of white fat tissue to support metabolism. Be careful. Green tea contains caffeine, which is a toxic ingredient. I will tell you how you can get the benefits of green tea without caffeine in just a second.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger, and it facilitates a healthy inflammatory response and regulates blood pressure. Recent evidence has linked resveratrol intake to activation of brown adipose tissue. Resveratrol is in red wine and fermented foods. If you are following a low-FODMAP diet, you should avoid fermented foods. Red wine is OK in moderation, yet it’s still alcohol which is a toxin.
Capsaicin is found naturally in spicy peppers like jalapenos, habaneros, and other chili peppers, giving them their kick. Likewise, capsaicin is also in byproducts like hot sauce and seasonings such as cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, or crushed red pepper.
Multiple studies show capsaicin directly activates the browning of white fat cells. It’s important to note that spicy peppers belong to the nightshade family of produce. If you have a nightshade sensitivity, you will want to avoid those foods. Also, I understand spicy foods aren’t everyone’s flavor, and I don’t want you to worry. I will tell you how you can activate brown fat without fermented foods, spicy foods, and caffeine.
An Alternative to Toxic & Inflammatory Foods
Your metabolism naturally slows down as you age. Let’s face it; my metabolism isn’t where it was in my 20s. Sudden weight gain, stubborn weight that won’t come off, hormone imbalances, or insulin resistance are signs that your metabolism is slow. I have some exciting news to share if this sounds like you.
You can reverse a slow metabolism by activating brown fat cells through exercise and diet. The problem is that many foods that activate brown fat are toxic and cause inflammation in many people. Well, I have some even better news.
After a year of research, I formulated Lean Metabolism Support to promote brown fat cell activation. As I mentioned, when brown fat cells are activated, they burn white fat cells that build up in your belly, thighs, butt, arms, and neck.
This physician-formulated supplement includes a proprietary blend of herbs that includes EGCG from green tea extract to support healthy metabolic function. EGCG is a powerful fat loss accelerator in green tea that revs up your brown fat cells and boosts your energy levels — helping you experience a slimmer, lighter body.
I’ve also included the marine supernutrient fucoxanthin in Lean Metabolism Support. Fucoxanthin stimulates brown fat cells in your body. As I mentioned, brown fat breaks down fat molecules to create heat and maintain body temperature in response to cold temperatures.
A Dynamic Duo
Fucoxanthin works synergistically with CLA, which, together with Lean Metabolism Support, accelerates fat metabolism and stops cravings in their tracks by promoting the release of serotonin in the brain.
I put these two pharmaceutical-grade supplements in the Optimal Weight Support Kit for maximum metabolism support so you can experience a leaner, slimmer figure with the confidence to go with it.
Fat has a bad reputation, yet not all fat is bad. Brown fat is a superstar in helping your body burn away that stubborn fat. Now that I’ve given you the tools you need to know how to activate brown fat cells, you can use them to reach your optimal weight goals and support a healthy metabolism.
- The Truth About Fat. Kathleen Doheny. WebMD. 2009.
- The TMAO-Producing Enzyme Flavin-Containing Monooxygenase 3 Regulates Obesity and the Beiging of White Adipose Tissue. Rebecca C. Schugar , et al. Cell Reports. 2017.
- Brown Fat: What You Need to Know. Ralph Ellis. WebMD. 2022.
- What is brown fat? How is it different from other body fat?. Donald Hensrud. Mayo Clinic. 2022.
- What Is Brown Fat? Can It Help Your Body Lose Weight?. Integers Health. 2019.
- Brown and Beige Fat: Molecular Parts of a Thermogenic Machine. Paul Cohen and Bruce M. Spiegelman. Diabetes. 2015.
- Can Cryotherapy Help Me Lose Weight?. Paul Cohen and Bruce M. Spiegelman. Healthline. 2020.
- Detection and Quantitation of Circulating Human Irisin by Tandem Mass Spectrometry . Mark P. Jedrychowski. Cell Metablism. 2015.