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Brown Fat: Why we actually want this type of fat

For most of us the quest to rid our bodies of fat is of paramount importance!  Wait just a minute though!  There is a type of fat, brown fat, that is actually beneficial for us to have in our bodies. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, brown fat is defined as ” a mammalian heat-producing tissue occurring especially in human fetuses and newborn infants and in hibernating animals — also called brown adipose tissue.”  The reason brown fat is brown in color is because it is highly innervated and contains many mitochondrial cells (energy producing cells).  It was previously thought that human fetuses and newborns were the only ones that had brown fat.  However, in recent years, scientists have discovered its existence past the newborn stage of life.  Brown fat is correlated with lower body weight so the more brown fat present, the more likely one is to have a low BMI (Body Mass Index).  The role of white fat in our bodies is to store fat but the role of brown fat is to burn fat and therefore increases our metabolic rate when it is active.

How then do we capitalize on the brown fat in our bodies?  There are two ways to activate this tissue.  The first is through cold exposure.  According to, if you were to “for example,  hang out in a cold room for two hours in your undies and put your legs on a block of ice for four minutes every five minutes, you can elicit a marked increase in energy expenditure, thanks to brown fat activation.”  However, most of us do not find either of those activities to be pleasant which leads us to the second way in which we can activate brown fat, food.  Two types of food have been shown to activate these tissues.  The first is spicy foods because they contain a chemical called capsaicin.  Capsaicin can be found in foods such as red chili pepper and cayenne peppers.  The second class of food associated with increased activation of brown fat is Arginine rich foods like soy, seeds, nuts and beans.  Perhaps the best idea is to make a veggie chili and eat both food groups at once combining spice with beans!  Try this delicious chili recipe if you don’t already have a favorite!


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