What’s the Difference Between Brown Fat and White Fat?
Just like an avocado contains a different type of fat than a candy bar (sadly), not all body fat is created equal. In fact, there’s one type of fat that you want more—not less—of. We chatted with professor Barbara Cannon, physiologist at the Wenner-Gren Institute at Stockholm University, to get the lowdown on metabolism-boosting brown fat (including how to get more of it).
What exactly is brown fat? Brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, is loaded with mitochondria (Bio 101 recap: these are the organelles that power up the cell) that give it a darker hue. We have a lot of brown fat as newborns, but this decreases as we get older. “Most people still have brown fat in their 20s and 30s but nobody seems to have it by the time they’re 60,” says,” says Cannon. Brown fat tends to accumulate around the neck and shoulders as opposed to the midsection.
So brown fat isn’t to blame for my muffin top? Nope. The annoying fat that likes to hang around after too many sweets and not enough sweat is known as white fat. While white fat stores energy (aka calories), brown fat can actually burn energy. Translation? Brown fat is a metabolism-boosting tool that could actually help you torch the white fat. Pretty cool.
Sounds awesome. How can I get more of this magical flubber? While accumulating white fat takes little to no effort (aside from shoveling another doughnut into your mouth), upping your brown fat supply isn’t quite as easy. But it is possible. The amount of brown fat you have depends on your age but also on your environment. “If it’s cold, we retain our brown fat and use it to generate heat; if it’s warm, we allow the tissue to decrease, as we don't need extra heat,” Cannon explains.
So staying cool can increase brown fat activity? Yep. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation exposed participants to 63 degrees temperatures for two hours a day for six weeks. At the study's end, the average body fat mass of participants had decreased by 5 percent. Not too shabby. But there’s no need to sit in a chilly room for hours on end—even sleeping with a window open or taking a cold shower could help boost your metabolism. It might not be the most pleasant experience, but on the plus side, turning down the thermostat could help you lose weight and save money on your heating bill. Two birds, one stone, people.