Campus News

Dietetics director discusses ways to benefit from brown fat

Emma Laing, clinical professor and director of dietetics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, spoke with U.S. News & World Report about the potential health benefits of brown fat.

Brown fat is a type of body fat that breaks down blood sugar and fat, generating body heat in cold conditions, a process called thermogenesis. Brown fat activates in cold temperatures right before you start to shiver. Researchers believe our ancestors may have developed brown fat to help survive hypothermia.

Brown fat may play a role in treating obesity, insulin resistance, enhancing the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and promoting healthy cholesterol levels.

The best way to increase brown fat activation and potentially experience these health benefits is through cold exposure.

“The exact temperature and exposure time needed for health benefits have not been determined,” Laing said.

Brown fat is also rich in iron. Due to this, eating iron-rich foods could support brown fat activation. Dietary components such as caffeine, ginseng and turmeric have also been studied, mostly in animal models, but with only preliminary evidence.

“Without more concrete evidence in humans that diet can activate brown fat, and to what degree, it is difficult to make nutrition recommendations specific to this process,” said Laing.

According to Laing, other methods of increased brown fat activation have been proposed such as obtaining adequate sleep, regular exercise and eating a well-rounded diet.