One of the things that we can seemingly all agree on these days is that nutrition can be quite confusing. Unfortunately, we live in a country in which the government and medical profession has been promoting the demonization of dietary for decades, but thankfully, that tide is starting to change. The scientific evidence is strong and getting stronger. The truth is that all fats are not created equal. There are healthy fats and bad fats and horrible fats. The same thing applies to the fat on your body, and that is the topic of today’s article.
The correlation between body fat and healthfulness is dependent on the location of the fat and its composition. Some types of body fat are worse than others. Biologically, fat is an endocrine organ, and as such, it secretes hormones and other bioactive compounds that affect our physiology and determine our health.
This is the type of body fat that sits just below your skin. It’s the most obvious and least aesthetically-pleasing fat, showing itself as beer bellies, saggy arms, love handles, and flabby necks. However, subcutaneous fat is less actively harmful than many other types of body fat. Subcutaneous fat is secretes leptin, which is the hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism, and of adiponectin, a biomarker for metabolic health.
This is lower body fat, specifically that which sits on your buttocks, hips, and thighs. In women, it is an indicator of good metabolic health (within reason). Fat on the butt and hips secrete greater amounts of palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid with insulin-sensitizing effects. Gluteofemoral fat contains a greater proportion of omega-3 fatty acids, which are used to construct baby brains!!
This is the type of fat that is inside of the abdominal cavity. This fat is not good, as it surrounds and envelops organs, and secretes large amounts of IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine strongly correlated with systemic inflammation. Think of visceral fat as bad body fat.
This is fat in the liver. This type of fat is highly correlated to obesity. This is dangerous body fat.
Epicardial fat is visceral fat that surrounds the heart, and large amounts of this fat are associated with obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. It also exerts direct effects on heart function and releases inflammatory molecules that affect surrounding tissues.
Intramuscular fat lies inside the muscles. Well marbled beef steaks have lots of intramuscular fat – fat that lies between muscle fibers. If you can utilize it, this type of fat provides a tremendous source of energy for the muscles. Sounds like it would be good for athletes, doesn’t it? Well, athletes generally will never accumulate much of this fat because they train regularly. However, if you have some, the best way to access this type of fat is by doing low-level aerobic activity, while staying under 75% of max heart.
This type of fat is actually more like muscle, because it’s highly metabolically active. We use it to generate heat in response to cold exposure. According to Mark Sisson, babies have a ton of brown fat, since they can’t shiver to stay warm, and until recently researchers assumed adults didn’t have much at all. Now we know that’s wrong. Cold plunges, swimming in cool water, and even going outside in short sleeves and shorts in cold weather can all stimulate the formation of brown fat in adults. Side note: over the past 2 months, I have been self-experimenting with “cold thermogenesis” in order to stimulate brown fat metabolism. At some point, I will report on the results.
Body Fat Distributions by Population
Researchers have found that different populations have different body fat distribution patterns, which is quite interesting.
- South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis) tend to have less subcutaneous fat than Caucasians, so a larger proportion of weight gain in South Asians diverts to visceral fat – not good. Dr. Ron Sinha wrote about this extensively in his book The South Asian Health Solution.
- Compared to Australian whites, Japanese men have more body fat for a given BMI.
- African Americans have less visceral fat and more subcutaneous fat for a given BMI than white Americans. Unfortunately and strangely, this doesn’t translate to a lower risk of diabetes, according to researchers.
- Australian Aborigines have lower body and abdominal fat for a given BMI than Australians of European descent. Aborigine women have higher waist circumferences and waist:hip ratios than Aussie European women for a given BMI.
- Males and females carry fat differently, which we all inherently know. Men are more likely to store fat on the trunk and around the waist. Women tend to store fat in the butt, thighs, and hips. Upon reaching menopause, women stop producing as much estrogen and begin storing more fat in the waist and abdomen.
Body Fat Practical Tips
- Women should stress FAR LESS than they do about a little butt, hip, and thigh fat. It’s likely a good sign (within reason).
- Belly fat is not good. And fat around your heart or in your liver is really bad, and requires nutrition and exercise intervention.
- To target belly fat, intense training works best meaning HIIT training and lifting heavy weight.Long slow runs won’t do it, according to scientific evidence.
- To target liver fat, limit sugar, eat lots of choline (egg yolks and liver), and practice high intensity interval training. Lay off the alcohol.
- To target epicardial fat, exercise. Both intense and moderate-intensity training seem to work.
- Subcutaneous fat looks bad and is the most difficult to burn off, but is not really that bad, although it looks bad. Losing weight will help to reduce it, but you cannot spot reduce.
- To target intramuscular fat, exercise in a low-carb state. Long slow cardio at a lower heart rate is good for this type of fat burning.
- To get more brown fat (which is what you want), forget your jacket in the winter, walk outside in the winter.Soak in a cold pool.Take cold showers.
I hope that you found this article interesting. From a practical perspective, figure out what type(s) of body fat you have and then specifically target them. But don’t get all crazy about it. Ultimately, the basics apply………eat a nutrient dense diet, limit sugar intake, and exercise.