Brown fat: What it is, benefits, and how to increase brown fat naturally

As a society, we’ve come a long way regarding our understanding of fat and how it affects the body. For years, fat was seen as the villain to be avoided at all costs, but these days most people are aware that there are good fats and bad fats, and that fat is an important macronutrient that performs essential functions for the body.

But when it comes to the body, what about brown fat vs. white fat? If you weren’t aware that fat comes in different colors, you’re not alone. However, scientists have been studying brown fat for a while now, and it’s becoming more common to come across the term in conversations about anything from exercise to cold plunges.

Brown fat has been shown to have very real benefits for the body—but first, let’s dig in to what brown fat is.

What is brown fat?

Otherwise known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), brown fat is a specialized type of fat tissue that is slightly darker than regular, aka white, fat. Unlike white fat, which primarily stores energy for the body, brown fat is more metabolically active and plays a key role in keeping us warm and helping the body burn calories, making it an active player in our weight-management efforts. 

The amount of fat in the body varies from person to person, but we all have a small percentage of brown fat compared to white fat. Athletes and those with lean body types tend to have more brown fat than others.

Clear as mud? Dr. Ben Bikman breaks down white fat vs. brown fat further in this short video:

Brown fat benefits

Brown fat is responsible for producing heat to warm the blood in your body, which benefits you in a variety of ways.

Burns more calories

Brown fat cells contain a high number of mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, which enables them to burn calories to produce heat. This can help with weight management.

Maintains body’s temperature

Brown fat produces heat to warm the blood in your body. So when it’s cold out, brown fat breaks down blood sugar and fat molecules to produce heat. This process, called thermogenesis, helps you maintain your body temperature.

Helps improve insulin sensitivity

When brown fat is activated, this increases the body’s metabolic rate, promoting a negative energy balance. This can help alleviate metabolic health issues like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

How to increase brown fat naturally

As you can see, brown fat is something we want to keep around. We can naturally increase the amount of brown fat we have in our bodies by following a few steps.

Lower the temperature

Brown fat activates at lower temperatures, right before you start shivering. So placing yourself into a cold environment, whether that be by lowering the thermostat, taking a cold shower, or plunging into a cold river, can help get the brown fat going and help you burn more calories.

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet

No matter your health goals, nutrition will play a vital role in your success. Focus on healthy fats and fiber-rich foods (like fruits and vegetables). Iron-rich foods like meat, leafy greens, and beans help keep your fat cells healthy, so make sure they have a spot on your plate as well. Avoid consuming ultra-processed foods to support metabolic health and brown fat function.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise has been shown to influence brown fat activity and can help convert white fat to beige fat , a process where white fat mimics the way brown fat behaves. So make sure you’re getting your heart rate up each day.

Drink yerba mate

Yerba mate has been consumed for generations for its mood and energy benefits. Current research shows it can support satiety and may increase the amount of stored fat that is burned for energy, as well. A study on Unimate, Unicity’s ultra-purified yerba mate drink, showed that subjects that drank Unimate saw a significant decrease in cellular energy and metabolic efficiency compared to subjects that just drank water, meaning that the fat cells were likely burning energy to produce heat, similar to the thermogeic process of brown fat cells. Learn more about the study here

Brown fat: Another ally for metabolic health

Activating brown fat has emerged as a promising target for metabolic health and weight management due to its unique ability to burn calories and regulate energy expenditure. Keep these tips in mind to get the most benefits from the brown fat in your body!