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Things You Didn’t Know About Body Fat

Fat is the ultimate three-letter word, especially the kind that you spend so much time watching your diet and hitting the gym to keep at bay (or at least to keep off your butt). But beyond making you look less-than-svelte, fat can have significant physical and emotional implications.

We talked to Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and author of The Secret of Vigor: How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy, to find out a few essential facts that might surprise you.


  1. It comes in different colors: More specifically, there are different types of fat that have different hues and functions, according to Talbott: white, brown, and beige. The white fat is what most people think of as fat-pale and useless. Useless in that it has a low metabolic rate so it doesn’t help you burn any calories the way muscle does, and it’s the predominant type of fat in the human body, encompassing more than 90 percent of it. In other words, it’s a storage unit for extra calories.

Brown fat is darker in color due to a rich blood supply and can actually burn calories rather than storing them-but only if you’re a rat (or other mammal); certain critters can activate brown fat to burn calories and generate heat to keep them warm in winter. Humans, sadly, have so little brown fat that it won’t help you burn calories or keep you warm.

The third type of fat, beige fat, is in between white and brown in terms of its calorie-burning ability, which is actually very exciting. Why? Because researchers are looking into ways to shift white fat cells into more metabolically active beige ones via diet and exercise or supplements. In fact, there is preliminary evidence that certain hormones which are activated by exercise may convert white fat cells into beige ones, as well as some evidence that certain foods such as brown seaweed, licorice root, and hot peppers may have the ability to do this as well.

  1. The fat on your butt is healthier than the fat on your belly: It’s probably safe to say that no woman favors the fat on one body part over another, but it’s actually safer health-wise to be more of a pear than an apple, Talbott says. Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is much more responsive to the stress hormone cortisol compared to the fat on your thighs or butt, so when stress hits hard (and you don’t find a healthy way to handle it), any extra calories consumed are more likely to end up around your middle.


Belly fat is also much more inflammatory than fat located elsewhere in the body and can create its own inflammatory chemicals (as a tumor would). These chemicals travel to the brain and make you hungry and tired, so you’re more likely to overeat or eat junk food and not exercise, thus creating a vicious cycle and perpetuating the storage of more belly fat. The good news is that anything that helps you reduce inflammation helps reduce those signals to the brain. Talbott recommends fish oil (for the Omega 3’s) and probiotics, which you can take in pill form or get by eating yogurt with active cultures.

  1. First you burn calories, then you burn fat: The term “fat-burning” is thrown around willy-nilly in fitness circles, but as an expression of weight loss, it’s indirect. Before you “burn” fat, you burn calories, whether those calories come from stored carbohydrates (glycogen and blood sugar) or from stored body fat. The more calories you burn during each workout, the bigger deficit you will create and the


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