White vs Brown Fat: Their Differences and How to Burn Them

Burning fats often dominate the conversation about health and fitness. Often, people are quick to subscribe to a fat-burning routine or diet that promises a quick reduction in body fat to achieve their target physique.

However, not all fats are created equal regarding how readily they get used to fuel our bodies.

While fats are linked to unhealthy weight gain and long-term diseases, some types can boost weight loss and aid metabolism.

This article will discuss the different types of body fat and how you can lose unhealthy ones.

We store our excess energy from the food we eat as fat as energy reserve for later use. When energy from food intake does not keep pace with our daily demands, our body uses fat to power cells throughout the body

Other benefits of fats:

  • Keeps your organs warm
  • Regulates hormones
  • Fuel cells
  • Acts as cushion and shock absorber to other organs

Fats are essential for optimizing our health. The problem arises when excess fat accumulates, typically in the belly region, due to persistent energy imbalance, especially if we lack physical activity.

Not all fats are bad. Their color dictates their health impacts on our bodies.

Here are the different types of fats and their impacts on our health and wellness.

White fat makes up about 90% of our total body fat. It stores excess energy and serves as a shock absorber to protect our vital organs. This fat accumulates mostly in our abdominal region and under our skin tissues, causing the famous belly fat and love handles.

White fat also releases the hormones leptin, adiponectin, and resistin, which influence appetite, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity. It also secretes inflammatory cells.

Although white fat is critical for emergency fuel for our body, amassing too much white fat leads to obesity and inflammation, leading to long-term health conditions. Too much fat in the abdomen promotes insulin resistance and increases cholesterol levels if left unchecked.

Brown fat gets its color from the abundant iron-rich mitochondria, which allows it to burn nutrients to generate heat. This means our body uses brown fat to defend against extreme cold and warm up the body.

Research has shown that brown fat burns away white fat, and people with more active brown fats have healthier body weight, suggesting its importance in fighting obesity. It is estimated that activated brown fat could burn up to 100-250 extra calories!

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Beige fat is an intermediate type of fat that arises from the white fat cells transforming into a brown-like state. These fat cells convert white fat cells to brown to burn calories and regulate temperature.

According to lab studies, beige fat is linked to improved glucose tolerance and insulin secretion, suggesting that if we can activate beige fat in humans, we could use it to help regulate blood sugar, protect the pancreas, treat diabetes, and prevent obesity.

Brown and beige fat helps regulate temperature and helps you burn more calories.

Excessive white fat is bad and unhealthy. So how do we lose it?

If your diet or snacks contain added sugars and refined carbs, you are at greater risk of storing white fats around your organs (yikes!).

Limit these foods:

  • Sweets
  • Sugary beverages
  • White bread
  • Pastries
  • Processed snacks

Not only do refined carbs and sugar convert easily to white fat, but they also disrupt normal hormone signaling related to satiety and fullness, leading to stress eating and overeating.

Refine carbs and sugary snacks easily stored as white fats.

Aerobic exercises, strength training, and HIIT exercises are some of the most effective ways to burn tons of calories and chop off some white fats in our bodies. Research has shown that these exercises elevate the “after-burn effect”-- a phenomenon where our body continues to burn more calories even hours after exercising.

HIIT exercises, in particular, skyrocket your heart rate into intense intervals where you expend tons of energy in a much shorter time frame. This means you burn more calories and use your fat to meet the high-energy demands of HIIT exercises.

Scheduling your workouts can help you commit to doing more exercises and make a habit of working out more sustainable.

High-intensity or prolonged workouts taps to your stored fats for energy.

Fasting or time-restricted eating means going for longer periods without eating outside your regular meal times; for example, fasting for 16 hours each day by eating only during an 8-hour window.

This works because when you go longer between meals, your body burns through the sugars and starches from your last meal first. Once those runout, your body has to get energy from somewhere, so it starts breaking down stored white fat.

The periods of not eating also allow your insulin levels to decrease. High insulin signals your body to store more fat. So, lower insulin helps your body tap into fat stores instead.

Fasting for 16 hours helps convert white fat into brown fat

Brown fats are essential in regulating body temperature. They produce heat by using blood sugar (glucose) and white fat.

Brown fat triggers when our body is exposed to colder temperatures, right before we start shivering. By intentionally exposing yourself to lower temperatures, you can help your body produce more brown fat and burn more calories.

Try these to activate brown fats:

Exposure to cold temperature activates brown fats.

Brown fat is rich in iron, and you build it by eating foods rich in iron or supplementing. Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C can also help boost iron absorption in the body.

In some studies, eating spicy food with hot pepper can also help turn white fat into brown fat due to capsaicin and capsinoids. Omega 3 fatty acids in fish are also shown to activate brown fat.

Include these foods in your diet:

  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Fish (Salmon)
  • Whole grains
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Hot pepper
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea

Variety of healthy whole foods is key to having healthy fats in your body.

Research has shown that ursolic acid boosts the activities of brown fat cells and can increase their production. Ursolic acid is a compound found in apple peels, rosemary, and basil.

In animal studies, supplementation of ursolic acid leads to increased muscle growth and calorie burning in mice.

Apple skin has high concentrations of ursolic acid, which boost muscle strength and production of brown fats.

Being physically active is the key to improving your ability to burn white fats and enhancing your brown fats. Exercise kickstarts your metabolism and allows muscle tissues to generate a hormone called irisin. Irisin acts as a messenger and tells your white cells to transform to beige and, eventually, brown fat.

It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. Whether cardio, HIIT, or strength training, they all lead to a surge in irisin levels in the body.

As long as you remain physically active, any exercise can help you enhance brown fat in your body.

Here is a plan for women that will help you lose fat:

And for men:

There are three types of fat cells: white, brown, and beige. Understanding the importance and role of these cells in the body is essential in maintaining health and wellness, especially in your fitness journey.

Remember that accumulating too much white fat is harmful to your health. On the contrary, preserving and enhancing your ability to produce brown fat helps you burn additional calories that will help you further enhance fat loss.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet, exposing your body to cooler temperatures and regular exercise are the keys to keeping your brown fats healthy.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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