Since we were young it has been cemented into our minds that being overweight and having excess body fat is unhealthy, this is an agreed truth. But would the type of fat and their ratios in the body have a significant impact on overall health? As we are slowly learning, it just might. It’s a common misconception to think we as humans have one type of body fat, in reality there are multiple different types within a normal person. Each has its own purpose and effect on the body. As we will discuss in this article, some forms of body fat are healthier for you than others; but beware as the truth may shock and educate you!
The Different Types of Body Fat
When we think of fat, most of us envision the jiggly, soft and squishy fat that is easily noticeable on a person’s frame. This type of fat is known as white fat or white adipocytes. White fats main purpose is to store energy and release hormones into the blood stream. White fat can be stored in two different places and has two different names:
? Visceral fat is located deep inside the body, mainly around organs and muscle. Being the unhealthiest form of body fat, visceral fat levels have a direct correlation with an individual’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance and possibly even dementia. The reason why this is so shocking comes from the fact that you don’t need to be obese to have an above average amount of visceral fat (we will touch on this later).
? Subcutaneous fat is the fat we picture and can touch. This fat sits above the body’s muscle and organs, right below the skin. Unlike popular belief this type of fat isn’t particularly unhealthy, as it does not interfere with muscle or organ function.
The second type of body fat is much less abundant in the human body and is called brown fat, or brown adipocytes. This fat is actually quite healthy for the human body. Its main function is to produce heat which warms the body, which is why children and babies have a higher ratio of brown fat to white fat to help them stay warm. Surprisingly brown fat functions more like muscle than it does white fat, burning calories when stimulated (usually by the cold). While a 150 pound man might have 20-30 pounds of white fat, he will only have about two to three ounces of brown fat. That tiny amount of brown fat will burn upwards of 400 calories a day if it is efficiently stimulated. Brown fat also differentiates from white fat in the way that it contains more mitochondria and iron, giving it the brown appearance.
How Fat Breaks Conventional Theories
When we picture somebody that’s in somewhat good shape and healthy we probably think of their BMI or body mass index at around 20-25, while someone with an index of 30 or greater is generally known as obese and overall less healthy. While this is generally true for most, many nations and societies around the globe show us that there are always exceptions to the rule. A good example of this phenomenon comes in the form of formerly obese individuals who received liposuction. As we discussed previously, visceral fat is what causes all the negative effects on the human body, and unfortunately this fat cannot be removed. Liposuction can only remove the harmless subcutaneous fat while leaving the unhealthy visceral fat. Being a common misconception, many will get this surgery and feel better in the short term. But they still have the same amount of risk to develop diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, fatty liver, and many other life threatening diseases associated with a higher level of body fat and a higher BMI. In reality the only solution that has been proven to improve overall health is to burn off the visceral fat through diet and exercise.
Another group that defies logic comes from the eastern country of Japan. A very popular type of marital arts in their culture requires a very large frame, complete with a weight of around 150 kilograms (or about 330 pounds), and a BMI of over 40. As you might’ve guessed this sport is called Sumo wrestling and has been around for hundreds of years. Unlike most western individuals with a BMI of 40 (which is considered morbidly obese), these athletes exercise up to six hours a day on an empty stomach, and consume close to 10,000 calories on a daily basis between their lunch and dinner. What this means for their fat storage is that most of their excess body fat stores is in the form of subcutaneous fat, not visceral. Put simply, even though Sumo wrestlers may look upwards of 30-40% body fat, they are closer to 20%, and are at the same risk of developing weight related conditions as a well-trained powerlifter.
Take Home Message
The main purpose of this article was to clear up any confusion that might still be circulating about what a “healthy” body type should look like and consist of. Hopefully after reading this article any myths you still believed about the BMI scale have been dispelled, as it is a quite flawed system for measuring body fat and overall health. While there are exceptions to the rules, most individuals with high levels of subcutaneous fat also have high levels of visceral fat. Visceral fat being the unhealthy, life threatening fat, while subcutaneous fat is not nearly as dangerous. Brown fat is actually healthy for the human body, as it warms the body and burns excess calories. As always thank you for tuning in and reading to the end of my article and until next time, continue to learn and take care of your body!