Did you know there are many types of body fat? Even though most people use the word ‘fat’ to describe (usually visible) fat on their bodies, there are actually 6 different types of fat we carry around.

Not all fats are equal. Some are very good for you, essential even. Others can have a negative effect on your health, often leading to health issues.

Body Fat

The 6 Types of Body Fat are:

The 3 main types of fat cells are white, brown, and beige cells. They are then stored as subcutaneous, essential or visceral fat.

Each type of body fat serves a different purpose. Some are good for you and promote a healthy metabolism and hormone levels, while others can contribute to illness and disease. However, a healthy balance between most of these fats is what you should aim for. Let’s take a look at the different types of fat.

The Different Types of Body Fat

Essential fat

Essential fat is suitably named as it is essential for your life and is required to keep you in good health.

It’s important for normal bodily functions including vitamin production, regulating body temperature and for hormone regulation, including the hormones that control fertility.

Essential fat is found in your:

  • brain
  • organs such as heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, spleen
  • muscles and tissues
  • bone marrow
  • central nervous system
White

White fat is the body’s biggest contributor to energy storage. It also produces a hormone called adiponectin which is used for insulin management and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. When the production of this hormone slows down, making you insulin resistant you become susceptible to weight gain and disease such as type 2 diabetes. 

White fat is made up of large, white cells stored just under the skin. It can settle on the hips, thighs, belly, arms and buttocks, and can also form around the organs.

This type of fat also contributes to the function of hormones such as:

  • leptin (which stimulates hunger)
  • cortisol (a stress hormone)
  • oestrogen
  • growth hormone

White fat cells are the body’s way of storing energy for later use. While it’s good to have some white fat for good health, too much is harmful to your health.

A high body fat percentage can be dangerous to your health, potentially resulting in weight (fat) gain and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome leads to all the below problems;

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • liver and kidney disease
  • hormone imbalances
  • PCOS and pregnancy complications
  • cancer
obese
Brown

Brown fat is a good fat in the body, burning fatty acids to keep you warm and maintaining your body’s core temperature. This process, called thermogenesis, also burns calories. Brown fat is not a storage fat.

Brown fat or brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a type of fat primarily found in babies. although adults do still retain a very small amount of brown fat around the neck and shoulders.

Some may argue that all fat is just fat, and don’t see brown fat as good or bad. The colour of the fat is entirely due to the proportion of mitochondria in the fat.

The electron transport chain hangs off the side of the Kreb’s Cycle and is actually where the energy in ATP is finally released, as protons are pumped across the semipermeable membrane. In muscles, the energy is coupled to some processes like a muscle contracting. But in the fat, there is an option to “uncouple” the process and just generate heat without doing any other work. In effect, it is like racing a car engine in neutral. Lots of heat but you don’t go anywhere. 

John Beaney, The Nutrition Geek

In a ketogenic diet the brown fat burns more cleanly and produces less ROS.

Beige (brite)

When the body is stressed, it produces beige fat.

Essentially, it is white fat changing colour. This process is called browning. Once they’ve changed colour, they act more like brown fat, burning the white fat for energy rather than storing it.

Subcutaneous

Subcutaneous fat refers to the fat stored under the skin. It’s a combination of white, brown, and beige fat cells.

The majority of our body fat is subcutaneous (meaning, under the skin). It’s the fat that you can squeeze or pinch on your body. This is the fat that health and fitness professionals measure with callipers to determine your body fat percentage.

Subcutaneous fat is used as protection by your body, like a cushion to protect your muscles and organs from damage.

Women tend to carry more subcutaneous fat, especially around the abdomen, for nature’s extra layer of protection when carrying babies.

A certain amount of subcutaneous fat is normal and healthy, but too much can lead to problems such as hormone imbalances. Learn how your body can be a fat-burning machine.

Visceral

Visceral fat, is what most people know as ‘belly fat’. This is the white fat that is stored in your abdomen, surrounding your major organs.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers are all related to high visceral fat levels.

Did you know fat is an essential nutrient? You can read more here.

Want to understand how fat metabolises in your body? You can read about Fat Trucks here.

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