In the 1980s and 1990s, conventional wisdom said that all fat was bad fat. This belief gave rise to countless low- and no-fat diets. But nutritional theories changed, and today healthy fats are an important part of many popular eating plans, such as the Mediterranean diet. And just as today we recognize that not all dietary fat is unhealthy, we’re learning that not all types of body fat are bad for you, either. In fact, recent research suggests that upping your store of one kind of fat may bring some health benefits.

The Two Types of Fat

There are two main types of body fat—white and brown. White fat stores energy and then secretes energy-producing hormones into the bloodstream when needed. However, having too much white fat—which can happen if your diet is high in processed foods and sugar—often means a build up of body fat, especially around the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks. If you have too much body fat (typically, if you’re overweight or obese), you have a higher risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

But the lesser-known lipid, brown fat, may be something you actually want more of. Brown fat makes up approximately five percent of an infant’s body weight and, according to Medical News Today, its primary function is to protect babies from hypothermia (low body temperature). As we age, levels of brown fat drop; remaining brown fat in adults is located specifically around the neck and shoulder region. Until recently, it was thought that brown fat in adults was essentially useless.

The Benefits of Brown Fat

Unlike white fat, brown fat is packed with mitochondria, which gives it its distinctive color. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, which burn energy to keep us warm as well as to move our muscles. There is an inverse relationship between white fat and brown fat: The more brown fat your body possesses, the less likely you’re to have a spare tire, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). What’s more, "increasing the amount and/or function of [brown fat] could be a safe and effective therapy to limit obesity."

How to Increase Your Store

Recent studies have found ways in which you can stimulate the brown fat cells to encourage them to burn calories and—perhaps—help you lose weight.

Long-term exposure to colder temperatures can increase brown fat stores and activity by up to 40%, according to a study conducted at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. Keeping your household temperature at around 65˚F can help do this.

While this might not mean braving cold winter nights with the heat turned off, these promising findings may produce greater in-roads to fighting the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Amber Taylor, MD, reviewed this article.


Austgen, Laura and Bowen, R. "Brown Adipose Tissue." Colorado State University. Last updated May 3, 2009.  

Collins, Francis. "Brown Fat, White Fat, Good Fat, Bad Fat." NIH Director’s Blog—National Institutes of Health. March 26, 2013. 

Ellis, Marie. "'Good' Brown Fat Stimulated by Cold, Study Shows." Medical News Today. June 23, 2014.  

Nordqvist, Christian. "What Is Brown Fat? What Is Brown Adipose Tissue?" Medical News Today. January 31, 2012.  

Seale, Patrick and Lazar, Mitchell A. "Brown Fat in Humans: Turning up the Heat on Obesity." Diabetes. July 2009 vol. 58 no. 7 1482-1484.