Did you know that the fat that we eat is an actual nutrient, being a concentrated source of energy (meaning calories) and helping our bodies absorb the fat-soluble vitamins including D, E, and K? Fat can also be considered an organ serving to insulate our body, release hormones, and protect bones, nerves, and organs.
There are different types of fat, or adipose tissue, in our bodies. Fat can be defined by where it is in the body such as visceral or abdominal fat, the type that also surrounds our organs. The body also has subcutaneous fat, the type of fat that is beneath the skin. Fat is also classified by color: white, brown, and beige.
White fat it the stuff that just sits there, making our jeans feel tight. Its role is to store energy and produce hormones.
Brown fat has enjoyed an increasingly positive reputation. Thin individuals tend to have more of this fat than those who are overweight as do those who live in northern climates. Brown fat is desirable because it burns calories stored in white fat.
Babies have the most brown fat of all ages and this fat helps to keep them warm. We lose brown fat as we get older. Shivering increases the activity of this fat as will sleeping in a cool bedroom.
Research is ongoing to determine how to activate the brown fat to burn more white fat or increase the amount in the body.
The newest member of the fat family is beige fat. This fat also burns energy or calories stored in white fat. But just like brown fat, beige fat is not found in large amounts in adults. Could there be a way to turn white fat into the calorie-burning darker fats?
Researchers are working on that idea in animal models. By increasing the amount of beige and brown fats we might be able to reduce belly fat and the deep fat that accumulates between and around our organs. This in turn could lead to decreased obesity and chronic conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and inflammation.
The research is in its infancy, and results are limited to animal studies. But what an intriguing idea and one filled with hope for improved health.