Body Fat or Adipose tissue is a normal constituent of the human body that serves the important function of storing energy as fat for metabolic demands. Excess body fat is directly linked to a wide variety of diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and certain types of cancers. It is estimated that every 0.45kg gained between the ages of 30 and 42 years increases the risk of disease by 1%. This doubles to 2% between the ages of 50 and 60.
Excess body fat also contributes significantly to premature death, with studies suggesting that the risk increases by 20- 40% in non-smoking overweight individuals and by at least 2- 3 times among obese individuals. While the thought of losing a tremendous amount of weight can be demoralising, it is important to realise that even small losses have a significant impact. The loss of every 0.45kg reduces an individual’s disease risk by 1%.
Types Of Fat In The Body
In this article, we will look at the different types of body fats there are and where they are found. They include:
1. White Fat
It is also referred to as “bad fat”. This stores calories and produces adiponectin, another hormone, which helps the liver and muscles to manage insulin. (Insulin is the glucose or sugar-controlling hormone that’s super important for our energy levels.) It keeps blood sugar stable.
A problem arises when there is so much of this white fat (and subsequently adiponectin secretion) that the metabolism slows down. When this happens, we start to gain excess weight – especially around the hip, thigh and tummy area – which is often the most difficult to lose. In addition, we become more at risk of developing other weight-associated diseases.
2. Brown Fat
This is the ‘good’ fat which provides cellular energy. It actually feeds on droplets from the white fat, so helps keep your weight down. Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), is responsible for our core temperature and is found in the back of the neck and chest areas. As well as being a ‘fat burning’ fat, it may also help keep diabetes away.
The good news is that we can increase the healthy brown fat by eating healthily, taking the right supplements and making lifestyle changes. In addition, other elements, such as being exposed to cold temperatures stimulates the transformation of white fat to brown fat.
3. Beige Fat
This is a combination of white and brown fat and is found along the spine and collarbone. During exercise, the hormone, irisin is released, which converts white fat to beige fat. Certain foods, in particular grapes, can also help with this ‘browning’ process.
4. Subcutaneous Fat (SF)
This is just under the skin, and is the fat that’s measured to determine body fat percentage. It’s found all over the body, but particularly on the back of arms, thighs and bums. You want to avoid excess SF around the belly to prevent long term health risks like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
This fat also produces oestrogen hormones in both sexes, and if there is excess oestrogen it becomes the dominant hormone, causing toxic weight gain that increases the risk of obesity, CVD disease, diabetes and cancer.
5. Visceral Fat
This is the more ‘dangerous’ deep fat found around abdominal organs. It may feature as a ‘big belly’, or more seriously as an enlarged liver – caused by the blood draining from the visceral fat around the organs, getting dumped there.
This causes an increase in overall blood cholesterol, along with inflammatory chemicals that may lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. This is why abdominal fat – fat around your middle – is a worrying sight of excess visceral fat in your body. However, in healthy proportions, it’s an essential fat for overall health, to cushion and protect our organs and help keep our core temperature stable.
How Do You Measure Body Fat?
Lifestyle interventions, including weight loss, increased physical activity and stress management have repeatedly been shown to improve our general health. The standard way to classify an individual’s body weight is to calculate their body mass index (BMI). This is done by using a formula that divides their weight (kg) by their height squared (m).
Since many other factors that may falsely influence an individual’s weight like increased muscle mass for example, lead to an erroneous overweight or obese classification, other measurements are often used in conjunction with BMI to assess an individual’s weight classification more accurately. These measures include waist circumference and body fat percentage calculations.