Brown Fat vs White Fat

Brown Fat vs. White Fat: What are the Types of Body Fat?

Adipose tissue, commonly known as body fat, comes in various forms and colors, each with its own unique characteristics and functions. In recent years, one color of fat has emerged as a fascinating target in metabolism and obesity research. 

Brown adipose tissue (BAT), or brown fat, excels at burning calories through a process called thermogenesis (unlike its white fat counterpart, which focuses on energy storage). This has led researchers to investigate methods to activate brown fat in hopes of enhancing our metabolic functions and finding better treatments for obesity. 

In this post, we discuss the varying types of body fat along with differences in how brown fat vs. white fat contribute to metabolic regulation. You’ll also get a look at the research for the most effective ways to activate BAT and convert white fat into brown fat cells.

Types of Body Fat

Body fat is an encompassing term for different types of fat cells (essential, subcutaneous, and visceral) as well as their colors (white, beige, and brown fat). Before we get into discussing colors, it’s important to explain what the different types of body fat cells are and why they’re important (or dangerous) to your health.


Essential fat cells are just what they sound like – the minimal amount of fat required to maintain the basic functions of the body. It’s critical to have some essential fat to help insulate your organs, produce hormones, and assist nutrient absorption. This type of fat cell is found in:

  • Bone marrow
  • Brain
  • Central nervous system
  • Eyes


Subcutaneous fat is the layer right under your skin that accounts for the majority of our body fat. This type is typically a combination of white, beige, and brown fat cells. While the distribution varies from person to person, moderate levels are essential for temperature regulation and energy storage. On the other hand, too much may contribute to weight gain and obesity, along with the health risks those bring.

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Known commonly as belly fat, visceral adipose tissue is a type of fat cell that surrounds internal organs such as the liver and pancreas. Visceral fat poses far more health risks than the previous two. With these fat cells being so close to vital organs, they can contribute to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and heart disease.

Body Fat By Colors

Body fat comes in a few different colors: white, beige (sometimes called brite), and brown fat. Understanding these colors can help identify the roles they play in our body’s metabolism, energy, and thermogenesis processes.

What is White Fat?

White fat, or white adipose tissue (WAT), is the type of fat that hangs off your body and settles in areas such as the thighs, rear, or waist. Its primary purpose is as an energy reserve to store excess calories in the form of triglycerides. While many people work hard to get rid of white fat, and too much of it can lead to obesity and associated health problems, a small amount of it is necessary. This helps to aid with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes prevention, as well as reducing the progression of certain cancers.

What is Beige (Brite) Fat?

Beige fat, sometimes called brite fat, is an exciting new area of research with the potential to help regulate obesity and maximize healthy body fat levels. This type of body fat is almost a middle ground between white fat (which stores energy) and brown fat (which actively burns calories). 

What is Brown Fat?

Lastly, brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, is a specialized type of metabolically active tissue that burns calories through a process called thermogenesis. This process generates heat, which plays a crucial role in maintaining core body temperature, particularly in cold environments. 

Interestingly, newborn babies have significantly higher amounts of brown fat, especially around their neck and shoulders. This compensates for their inability to maintain body temperature and shiver effectively. However, most of this brown fat will go away after the first few years.

Differences Between Brown Fat vs. White Fat

When it comes to the differences between brown fat vs. white fat, there are quite a few beyond the cell color:


When it comes to appearances, white fat gets its yellowish hue due to the abundance of carotenoids. Meanwhile, brown fat gets its color due to a much higher concentration of mitochondria, particularly uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), which facilitates efficient heat production by burning calories.

Distribution and Location

As mentioned earlier, infants have the most brown fat, which declines as they age. It’s primarily found in small areas such as the neck, shoulders, and around the spinal cord. On the other hand, white fat tends to increase throughout adulthood and is distributed throughout the body, with higher concentrations around the belly, thighs, and hips. 


When it comes to their functions in our bodies, white fat stores energy in the form of triglycerides, while brown fat focuses on burning calories to generate heat. This process, known as thermogenesis, helps to maintain body temperature in infants – and even hibernating mammals

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Hormonal Regulation

In regards to the hormonal regulation of white fat vs. brown fat, the two are quite different. White fat cells produce insulin, leptin, and adiponectin, which control energy storage and metabolism. Brown fat, on the other hand, is influenced by hormones such as thyroid hormones and catecholamines (i.e. adrenaline), which are critical for balancing energy levels. 


Unlike white fat, brown fat is highly vascularized, meaning it has a rich blood supply. This increased vascularity fosters an efficient exchange of nutrients and oxygen, supporting the high metabolic activity of brown fat cells. 

Why is Brown Fat Important?

When it comes to brown fat vs. white fat, they do share one feature — they are both necessary for survival. In adults, white fat tends to store excess energy, which is needed for various bodily functions. However, an excess amount can contribute to weight gain and associated health problems. 

Though less prevalent in adults, brown fat plays an important role in regulating body temperature and burning calories through thermogenesis. The good news is recent research suggests adults can activate brown fat to boost metabolism and potentially combat obesity-related issues.

How to Increase and Activate Brown Fat – Naturally

Though research is still ongoing for more ways to increase brown fat in adults, these strategies have shown the most promise for activating the cells:

  1. High-intensity exercise: Growing evidence shows that exercise, especially high-intensity, can induce the “browning” of white adipose tissue. Through browning, your body can convert some white fat cells into beige fat cells, which share some of the calorie-burning properties of brown fat.
  2. Diet: Certain nutrients might play a role in activating brown fat cells, and some studies suggest that foods rich in capsaicin (found in red peppers) or resveratrol (found in grapes and berries) may activate brown fat.
  3. Cold exposure: One of the most effective and most well-established ways to activate brown fat cells is acute cold exposure through cold water therapy or spending time in a cold environment. Brown fat activates at colder temperatures, around 58 degrees Fahrenheit, which is typically right before you start shivering.

When it comes to cold exposure therapies, two standout methods are ice baths and cold showers. However, a tub of ice might be too cold to activate brown fat. This is why you’ll want a dedicated Plunge tub!

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