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September 2023
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Fat: A Brown and White Issue: Efficiency of Calorie Burning Depends on It’s Color

Overweight To judge a person by his or her color is both wrong and reprehensible. But to judge food by its color? Both good and acceptable. 

We all know that brown rice is better than white rice; the white meat is healthier than the dark meat, brown (wheat) bread is preferable to white bread; and brown pasta is more nutritious than white pasta. But did you also know that brown fat is preferable to white fat?

Perhaps you didn’t know there was a difference.  Perhaps you thought all fat was the same.  If so, consider yourself in the overwhelming majority. 

Your assumptions about fat haven’t been entirely off-based.  After all, fatty tissue – no matter its color – is essentially excess calories that the body stores for protection and for use as a reserve source for energy.  But the color, or cellular make-up, of the fat determines how many calories the body burns.  Brown fat burns far more than white fat.

Sadly, white fat – called “white” fat because of the lesser amounts of mitochondria and capillaries compared to the amount found in “brown” fat – makes up the majority of fat cells found in our bodies, at least in our adult years (babies’ “baby fat” is mostly brown), but brown fat is more heat-based, thus burns calories quicker than white fat.

The question becomes, then, how does one start producing brown fat and diminish the amount of white fat production?  The answer to that question remains in the R&D stages, but researchers’ study of the topic has them much closer to that answer than in previous years. 

Believe it or not, researchers have been attempting to unlock the mysteries of brown and white fat for decades now.  The most recent attempt comes from Boston, Massachusetts, out of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Joslin Diabetes Center.  Researchers believe they’ve found the “switch” that regulates the production of white fat and brown fat after altering the production of genes in rats.  They found that when they manipulated the gene – PRDM 16 – to overproduce, this affected rats’ muscle-to-fat ratio by essentially turning what was once fatty tissue into muscle-based tissue.  The researchers believe brown fat is derived from muscle, and the overproduction of PRDM 16 “switched” the production from white fat into brown fat.

Sound strange?  It gets stranger.

In a second study, after injecting some rats with a bone-developing protein called BMP-7, the injected rats produced more brown fat, and in the process, did not put on weight at the same rate as the non-injected group (despite being fed the same diet).  Again, this confirmed to the researchers that the overproduction of certain proteins affects what kind of fat the body produces; if it’s brown, the body burns calories at a far greater rate than if it’s white. 

In light of these discoveries, many who are overweight will wait it out, hope this research will be converted into some “skinny pill” and all will be right with the world.  Don’t count on that happening any time soon.  Researchers still say that the best way to Weight Loss Central is by taking a left on Eat Less Street and then a right on Move More Avenue. 

If this research ever does wind up as a potential pharmaceutical treatment for obesity, one never knows what side effects it will carry.  Nevertheless, I credit the researchers in helping the world better understand what factors go into fat production.  But instead of a pill or injection-based treatment, my hope is this research will help identify what natural foods and/or activities one can do to start producing more brown fat, and less white fat.

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