Have you heard the hype around brown fat?!
Brown fat is the good kind of body fat (yes, there is good body fat!), and it’s been linked to everything from faster metabolism to better blood sugar control, to lower cholesterol, and even…weight loss.
It sounds counterintuitive, but having more brown fat can actually lead to improvements in metabolism and body-fat distribution.
Today we’re covering what brown fat is and how to increase your levels of it using healthy stressors.
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Let’s jump in!
The Difference between Brown and White Fat
Brown fat gets its name from being dense with mitochondria, the energy factories of our cells, making it brown in color. When activated, brown fat boosts our metabolism, and having more of it is associated with less insulin resistance, inflammation, and a lower risk of metabolic disease.
White fat, on the other hand, is less desirable for our metabolic health. This is the visceral fat that hangs out around our midsection, stores excess energy, and is linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, obesity, and chronic disease.
We can convert white fat into brown fat using hormetic stressors, and deliberate cold exposure is one way we can do this.
How Deliberate Cold Exposure Activates Brown Fat
Cold therapy is taking the wellness world by storm. It seems like everyone is talking about it, and that’s because it is insanely beneficial for your health for so many reasons. I recently sat down with Dr. Susanna Søberg, one of the world’s leading experts on cold therapy, to discuss the many benefits of cold exposure for focus, mood, energy, and metabolism.
Essentially, it works like this: the cold stimulates adrenaline (our flight-or-fight hormone), which tells the mitochondria to open up, or “uncouple,” and make more mitochondria. This results in more energy being burned so that we can generate the heat we need to keep warm, similar to a furnace. Scientists call this mitochondrial uncoupling, and it was crucial for keeping us alive before the advent of indoor heating.
In addition to boosting brown-fat metabolism, cold therapy can enhance insulin sensitivity, mental clarity, and a myriad of mental and metabolic health benefits. Since we are rarely exposed to extreme cold temperatures today, we have to recreate this environment for ourselves, and my Try This: Step-by-Step Guide to Cold Water Therapy explains how you can get started.
A Healthy Diet and Exercise Will Always Be Key to Weight Loss
Before we continue to the foods that activate brown fat, I have an important point to make first: there is no magic bullet for weight loss. Cold therapy can help load more fuel into our brown-fat furnace and speed up metabolism, but it’s not meant to be the primary focal point for weight loss.
Likewise, there’s no one miracle food that will boost your metabolism and lead to substantial weight loss either, but there are foods that can activate brown fat to some degree. That being said, diet (primarily) and exercise (secondarily) will always be key to shifting body composition.
After I turned 40, I started working out with a personal trainer to increase my muscle mass and lose body fat. I’ve never been blatantly overweight, but I was skinny fat or “TOFI” (thin on the outside, fat on the inside), which is super common in South Asian populations.
Weight training, daily walks, increasing my protein intake, and not overdoing it on calories from healthy fats and carbs were all essential components in shifting my body composition. I’ll also use cryotherapy, cold plunges, and brown-fat-activating foods as accessory tools to support the process.
Foods That Can Help Activate Brown Fat
My dear friend, Dr. WIlliam Li, was also on the podcast recently, and he shared a few functional foods and their phytochemicals, which stimulate brown-fat metabolism. Enjoy these on a regular basis, but don’t overdo them! For the most benefit, you’ll want to integrate them into a whole-foods diet.
🍵 Green tea: contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a phytochemical that activates mitochondrial uncoupling and brown-fat metabolism.
- Other foods that contain EGCG: apples, cherries, and lemons
🌶 Hot peppers: contain capsaicin, which activates brown fat via your sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system the second the spice hits the sensory receptors of your tongue.
- Other foods that activate your tongue’s sensory receptors: black pepper, ginger, and cloves
🫐 Blueberries: contain resveratrol that activates mitochondrial uncoupling genes and turns on brown-fat metabolism.
- Other foods that contain resveratrol: cranberries, grapes, and peanuts
🌱 Soybeans: contain genistein and daidzein, two phytochemicals that activate brown fat.
- Opt for whole-foods sources of non-GMO soy: tofu, tempeh, and edamame
🌿 Herbs and spices: there are so many benefits to including herbs and spices in your diet. In addition to being an incredible source of polyphenols that support gut health and activate anti-inflammatory genes, they also turn on insulin-sensitizing genes and activate brown fat.
- A few examples of herbs and spices and their polyphenols: turmeric (curcumin), peppermint (menthol), cinnamon (catechins and chlorogenic acid), goldenseal, and Oregon grape (berberine)
There are many metabolic advantages to having brown fat. Although certain foods have brown-fat-activating phytochemicals, cold therapy is by far the most promising way to turn on brown-fat metabolism and convert white fat into brown fat.
Dr. Søberg’s research helped put brown fat on the map. Our deep dive is a great introduction to cold exposure. She has several courses available on her website on how to use cold, heat, and breathwork to optimize health and longevity.
If you want to take your brown-fat metabolism to the next level, Dr. Søberg was kind enough to offer my community this special link for 10% off any of her exclusive courses with the code “TRYTHIS” at checkout. You can check out her catalog of courses here.
Here’s to your health,