What Kind of Fat Are You?


The color of your fat can say a lot about your health. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Brown fat, white fat; good fat, bad fat—sometimes it seems like the doctor who understands fat the best is Dr. Seuss. But identifying which kind of fat you have is not child’s play. It could mean the difference between of life or death.

In the past few years, researchers have discovered that, like khakis at the Gap, fat comes in many different shades and styles—each with unique molecular properties and health implications. Brown fat, for instance, is a kind of fat that can actually burn calories and keep us healthy; a brand new study from Harvard has identified why some precursor fat cells develop into brown fat, while others develop into unhealthy white fat—a finding that may help us change bad fat into good!

Meanwhile, certain types of white fat are silent killers—especially visceral white fat, which can lead to higher blood pressure, stroke, depression, diabetes and, of course, make you fat.

Here’s how to tell what kind of fat you have, and how you can combat the bad kind.

IF YOU: Burn calories easily, have healthy blood sugar levels, and tend not to gain weight in winter
YOU HAVE MORE: Brown fat

Otherwise known as brown adipose tissue, or BAT, this fat is found in the back of the neck, and helps to convert food into heat. When stimulated by cold environments, it acts like a muscle, burning calories for fuel. An adult of normal or below-normal weight naturally stores about 2 to 3 ounces of brown fat—enough to burn 250 calories over the course of three hours when triggered. Brown fat also helps regulate blood sugar and prevent the storage of fat when we overeat.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Turn up the AC. And make more brown fat! A recent study published in the journal Diabetes found that exposure to cold temperatures can actually stimulate the growth of calorie-burning brown fat. Researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases had participants spend a few weeks sleeping in bedrooms with varying temperatures: a neutral 75 degrees, a cool 66 degrees, and a balmy 81 degrees. After four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the subjects had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. (And yes, that means they lost belly fat.) To shed additional flab overnight—while just lying there—try these essential 8 Ways to Lose Weight While You Sleep!

IF YOU: Gain or lose weight easily through exercise
YOU HAVE MORE: Beige fat

The neutral-colored fat, identified just two years ago, has been harder to study because it’s a mixture of brown and white fat and occurs in tiny pea-size deposits near the collarbone and along the spine. But at least in mice, it shows huge potential for weight management.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Double up on fitness. According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, when mice were injected with the hormone irisin, their white fat was converted into healthy beige fat—a process called “browning.” Since humans release the same hormone in their blood when they work out, researchers suspect our bodies produce this same kind of fat-burning fat via exercise. This fat stores the energy that would otherwise wind up in your belly. It’s another reason why exercise is good for you—it helps turn fat from bad to good! For the ultimate workout and meal plan, read these science-backed, panel-tested 11 Eating Habits That Will Uncover Your Abs.

IF YOU: Have a muffin top or some junk in the trunk
YOU HAVE MORE: Subcutaneous white fat

Dubbed “the inch you can pinch,” this kind of white fat lies directly under the skin (i.e., “subcutaneous”). It’s the fat that’s measured using skinfold calipers to estimate body fat percentage, and it’s found all over the body. While excess fat is never a good thing, subcutaneous fat—particularly around the hips and thighs—is not particularly dangerous. In fact, a 2013 review of studies in the Journal of Obesity found that subcutaneous fat may actually protect you from diabetes by improving your body’s insulin regulation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Avoid hidden calorie bombs. While a muffin top might not be on your list of health dangers, it’s not exactly a welcome companion at poolside. Subcutaneous fat is difficult to get rid of; it responds best to the traditional eat-fewer-calories, burn-more-calories methods. Find out exactly which foods torch the most fat with this definitive and delicious list of The 9 Flat-Belly Superfoods.

IF YOU: Have a hard, round belly
YOU HAVE MORE: Visceral white fat

Visceral fat, often referred to as “deep fat,” is energy-storing white fat that wraps around the inner organs, and it may be your greatest health risk. Visceral fat sends out a number of toxic substances called adipokines, which raise your risk of everything from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Research published in the journal Obesity also suggests that visceral fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Reduce inflammation with food. The good news is that because of its rich blood flow, visceral fat is very responsive to certain dietary changes—far more so than stubborn subcutaneous fat. In fact, in a test panel for Zero Belly Diet, subjects lost as much as 16 pounds of belly fat in just 14 days by cutting down on inflammation-causing foods and focusing on 9 simple food groups—including eggs, red fruits, and healthy fats—that turn off the genes that cause us to store fat in our bellies (their success led to the 150+ weight loss recipes in the new Zero Belly Cookbook). Learn how they did it in my special report: 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days!

Strip away belly fat and lose up to 16 pounds in just two weeks—while eating the foods you love—with Zero Belly Diet, available now!

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