Can You Turn Your Bad Fat Into Good Fat?
A healthy diet should consist of all three macronutrients – carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Yes, fat. Fat helps provide energy and material for building body tissue including cell membranes and muscle. Fat is also needed to for the body to absorb certain vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K (known as fat-soluble vitamins). Omega-3 fatty acids are good for both the heart and brain.
Just as some fat is good in your foods, the body needs some fat on it as well. While you may strive for a low body fat percentage, your aim is never zero. “Essential” body fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions. The percentage of essential fat for men is lower (2-5%) as women need a slightly higher range due to childbearing and other hormonal functions (goal: 10 to 13%).
You also have fat in the body known as “storage” fat. This fat accumulation protects the internal organs in the chest and abdomen, but as we all know, some is good but too much is bad for our health. Excess body fat can lead to conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Our body fat can be broken down even further. Brown fat, known as “good fat” burns calories to generate body heat. Babies, for example, are born with a lot of brown fat so they stay warm. White fat is not considered good fat. This type of fat develops as a result of storing excess calories.
Now, you may think of exercise as a tool toward simply burning away unwanted fat. But researchers have found it can do more than that. It may actually help the body turn our bad white fat into good brown fat. It may also help us boost glucose intolerance and offer us “grace” over a bad diet.
Laurie Goodyear PhD of the Joslin Diabetes Center and colleagues found that active mice show a significant shift in gene expression in subcutaneous fat over sedentary mice. After just 11 days of exercise training, the researchers noted histologic changes known as “browning.” The adipose cells shrank, shedding some of the lipids inside and increased the mitochondria within the cell (which contain pigment that gives a brown appearance.)
Mice with the exercise-trained fat cells also showed improved glucose tolerance even when there was no change to overall body weight or food consumption – even when the mice ate a high fat diet.