We are always looking for reasons why it becomes harder to lose weight and keep it off as we get older. Another reason advanced regarding this is the role of white fat versus brown fat, and we all have both in varying degrees.
Brown fat cells are called that because they contain the most mitochondria, which is the pigment that binds iron and gives them their color.
It is thought that these cells were evolved in mammals as a way of generating warmth to cope with cold temperatures.
This ability to generate heat could also be a way to burn fat. These fat cells are typically found in the upper back near the spine and extending up into the shoulders.
In contrast, white fat cells are located mainly around the midsection and thigh area, and their basic purpose is to store extra fat from digested food.
Obesity issues occur when these fat stores not only never get used, but build so the cells become larger in size. It’s not that the number of fat cells increase, but their size does.
Fat cells, even those white fat cells that we hate looking at, do serve several purposes. During times of famine the body has some fallback stores to use.
That is one reason why intermittent fasting has taken on quite a lot of interest. They also provide warmth. As previously noted, brown fat cells are real energy burners, but white fat cells form a layer of insulation that is not always great to look at, but can provide a function.
All types of fat also perform a protecting function. It shouldn’t be surprising that we accumulate fat storage around vital organs like the heart, liver and kidneys, plus the stomach, intestines and lymph nodes. Also there are the protections of the joints so bones don’t rub together. Obviously fat is important for us to function; just not when we overdo it.
We do believe that brown fat does decrease white fat by burning off excess energy, although we still have much more to learn before it can become a scientifically proven fact.
So how might we increase these brown fat cells, especially as we age. Here are some of the things we should look at:
1. Avoid high calorie diets and extremely low-calorie diets. It’s obvious why we should avoid high calorie diets, but less than 1000 calories a day can actually reduce the activity of brown fat.
2. Never eliminate good fats. Getting rid of all fat makes the breakdown of white fat more difficult. Most people should be consuming a minimum off 300 calories a day from fats that nourish brown fat.
Those include olive oil and olives, avocados, nuts and peanut butter, flax seed and fatty fish, to name just a few.
3. Exercise to increase skeletal muscle mass. This releases the hormone irisin which helps in the conversion of white fat to brown fat.
4. Cooling the body down. This has not been proven, but some think that if the body is cooled down through certain activities.
By swimming or turning the cold water on during the end of a shower, brown fat will be stimulated to burn calories to maintain body temperature.
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Rich Carroll is a writer and avid health advocate now living in Chicago.