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Types of Body Fat: Risks, Benefits, and Fat Loss Tips (2019) 

Types of body fat: header image, calipers for measuring body fat

Looking up the types of body fat can mean a combination of a few things. You’re looking to clue up on fat loss, to find out the risks, or perhaps you want to know more about the benefits of body fat. 

Whatever you’re looking for, we’re about to cover everything you need to know in our ultimate guide on the different types of body fat. 

Interested in OriGym’s personal training qualifications? Feel free to take a look before you carry on reading! 

Contents:

  • The Benefits of Body Fat
  • Essential fat
  • Brown fat 
  • Beige fat 
  • White fat 
  • Subcutaneous fat 
  • Visceral fat 
  • Fat Loss Tips 

The Benefits of Body Fat

Before we get onto the topic of types of body fat (we know, sometimes it can get a little negative and discouraging), let’s take a look at some of the benefits of body fat that people don’t often talk about! 

#1 - Stores energy in the body  

We all need energy, and one of the benefits of body fat when we consume it as healthy levels is that we get just the right amount of energy. 

types of body fat: energy

We’re able to go about our daily lives without fatigue, with the added bonus of not storing the unfavourable types of body fat. 

If you eat too much fat, you risk ending up with extra fat stores and fatigue. Storing extra fat can actually cause your gut to release hormones that slow down your reactions, meaning that you’ll experience a greater level of tiredness than you would otherwise. 

However, if you don’t consume enough fat then you’ll inevitably run out of energy, but the difference between this and eating too much fat and being tired is that you won’t be storing any energy, and this can be just as detrimental to your health. 

When it comes to energy levels, the answer to reaping the benefits of body fat is to strike a good balance. Eat healthy fats, and a good amount of them when lined up next to your personal RDA! 

#2 - Prevents illness

One of the lesser-known benefits of body fat is that it’s effective in averting illnesses that tend to creep up on us when our immune systems are low. 

As well as this, maintaining a healthy level of body fat can save you from more serious and life-threatening illnesses such as; obesity, heart disease, strokes, and certain forms of cancer. 

#3 - Regulates body temperature 

When we think about the types of body fat, we may be reminded of how animals use their body fat to keep them warm… how do you think polar bears stay warm out on the glaciers?

types of body fat: exercise

In truth, there’s not always a great deal of difference between the types of body fat that we store and their function. Brown and beige fat is stored by our body in order to burn calories and fat for warmth and is therefore classed as a healthier type of body fat. 

Without storing at least some fat, we wouldn’t be able to survive for long (especially in winter!). We need a healthy level of fat to regulate our body temperature, so think twice before you try to ditch the healthy fats along with the chocolate bars. 

#4 - Maintains a healthy metabolism 

Keeping your metabolism on its toes is essential for good health, and meticulously watching your body fat storage will ensure this happens. 

When we eat a balanced diet alongside a regular exercise routine, we reduce our unhealthy fat stores and build on the healthier types of body fat. The healthier our fat stores are, the faster and more effective our metabolisms become. 

This is because those fat stores are then aiding our metabolic process rather than weighing against it. 

 

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Excess energy is stored as fat, and therefore our metabolism is overworked and unable to burn it. If we stop overworking our metabolism and provide it with the right amounts of energy to burn, it will work at its best. 

#5 - Increases vitamin absorption 

Having a healthy body fat percentage is important for optimal vitamin absorption, especially seeing as not all vitamins are water-soluble. 

A good amount of the essential vitamins are fat-soluble, and are therefore better absorbed when they are consumed alongside fat (healthy fat, that is!). 

types of body fat: healthy fat sources

Of the many vitamins we eat each day, the following are fat-soluble:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

So next time you take your vitamins, be sure to take them alongside a healthy fat source, such as avocados, eggs, nuts, peanut butter, or maybe a square of dark chocolate!

#6 - Balances hormone levels 

Healthily balanced hormone levels are something we all wish for, especially seeing as though they themselves help to regulate our heart rate, appetite, temperature, metabolism, stress levels, and other important factors.

White fat is one of the main types of body fat that controls and regulates hormones, yet it’s also stored commonly in unhealthy amounts. To reap the benefits of body fat we should definitely be keeping a close eye on the amount of fat that we consume, and aim to eradicate unhealthy stores within our own bodies. 

In terms of fat that we consume, sticking to healthy fats and those that contain omega-3 fatty acids is ideal. 

#7 - Reduces the risk of trauma

Fat acts as a cushion to your bones, muscles, joints, and vital organs when stored in healthy levels. Visceral fat is no exception to this fact, even as one of the most dangerous types of body fat. 

types of body fat: prevents injury

Whether you’re an athlete or do little to no physical activity, you can count on your body fat to protect you from certain bumps and injuries, as if you had 0% body fat you’d certainly be in trouble! 

#8 - Regulates blood sugar 

White fat, in particular, is good for regulating blood sugar as it produces adiponectin, which in turn contributes to the muscles and liver regulating insulin.

When stimulated, insulin works to control blood sugar levels and transform energy gained from food into body fat. 

It also ensures that glucose is absorbed by the muscles, body fat, and the liver so that the energy can be expended appropriately rather than stored as unhealthy fat (which is what happens when the body consumes too much food). 

When the body does consume more than it should, there is too much glucose in the blood to use for energy, and the excess is stored as fat. 

types of body fat: blood sugar levels

However, if you sustain a healthy lifestyle and consume the right amount of food for your body, the white fat will work as it should and keep your blood sugar levels in check! 

#9 - Can boost fertility (mainly in women)

A common pitfall that women who are trying to conceive experience is that their estrogen levels are too low. This is a rather broad topic, but one reason for this that tends to crop up a lot is that their body fat percentage was either too high or too low. 

When sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are low, fertility drops and the chances of pregnancy are slim. To regulate these hormone levels, a healthy level of body fat should be maintained through exercise and a healthy diet. 

It sounds like a simple solution, but for many women, this can make a real difference! This is one of the great benefits of body fat, as without significant amounts women can actually stop menstruating, which is also bad for their health. 

Types of Body Fat 

Essential Fat 

Just what is says on the tin, essential fat is the most desirable of the types of body fat out there. 

The body can actually produce other types of body fat, but essential fat comes exclusively from the food that we eat. It can be found within the bone marrow, nerves, brain, and visceral membrane that shields your organs. 

In their article on essential fatty acids, Bioriginal state that ‘EFAs increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals, nourish the skin, hair and nails, promote proper nerve functioning, help produce hormones, ensure normal growth and development, and prevent and treat disease.’ 

Essential fatty acids are certainly not something that you want to be missing out on, and so it’s more than important to know what they are and where to get them from. 

types of body fat: healthy fat food sources

The main omega-3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). 

For those looking to up their intake on the best types of body fat, here’s a list of the main foods that contain omega-3:

  • Fish (salmon, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, sardines) 
  • Seaweed 
  • Nuts (cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts)
  • Legumes (soybeans, edamame, kidney beans, chickpeas) 
  • Seeds (chia, flax, hemp) 

Brown Fat 

Often considered a ‘good fat’, brown fat actually aids the body in burning calories, lowering body fat percentage, keeping warm, and in avoiding obesity induced by diet. 

It literally keeps you warm by burning calories… what more could you want?

The brown colour of this type of body fat comes from the many iron-rich mitochondria that its cells contain, and it darkens further when the body is exposed to cold temperatures. This change in colour happens when the lipid stores within the cells are expended. 

Wondering where the brown fat in your body is? 

It’s not mixed in randomly if that’s what you were thinking, rather it mostly resides around the neck and upper back/shoulders. 

types of body fat: brown fat

Actually, it’s mostly found in infants, hence why they don’t shiver too much from the cold! Adults tend to have a much lower brown fat content, although they can generate more of the healthy types of body fat from exercising regularly, keeping good nutrition, and getting enough sleep. 

Another interesting fact is that you can convert more of your white fat into brown fat by exposing yourself to the cold temperatures, but not many people find this feasible. It’s most effective if you spend around 7 hours of the day in a colder environment so we really don’t blame them! 

Researchers and scientists are actively searching for a way to convert unhealthy types of body fat into brown fat, in an effort to provide a solution to obesity. 

The main bump in the road for this research is that it will only work best when implemented into a routine of good nutrition and exercise, and would not be healthy if used as a ‘quick fix’. 

Beige Fat

Due to it being such a new area of research when it comes to the different types of body fat, there’s not too much to say where beige fat is concerned. 

However, what we do know is that beige fat is more or less what you’d expect it to be from its name, and that is indeed either a mixture of brown and white fat or that it functions somewhere between the two. 

Beige fat could be seen as being more relevant to adults as unlike brown fat that occupies the body extremely scarcely (unless you’re a baby), it is thought to be scattered across the body as well as being found within the collar bone and spinal areas. 

types of body fat: beige fat

One reason that beige fat cells weren’t picked up on in previous studies of the types of body fat was that they can look and seem like white fat cells until they are ‘browned’. 

This process of browning occurs when the body is subjected to cold temperatures or regular exercise (when the irisin hormone is released). After beige fat is browned, it starts to burn excess calories and white fat just as brown fat does. 

Want to see an increase in beige fat? Start exercising on a regular basis (or up the exercise that you already do), watch your nutrition, and reap all the benefits of the increased fat loss! 

White Fat 

This is one that most people think of instantly where the main types of body fat are concerned… 

Let’s break the stigma that is attached to white fat first. In small-medium volumes, white fat is actually mandatory for those wanting to stay in good health. We spoke more about this in our benefits of body fat section, but do keep it in mind before you try to cut every inch of fat out of your diet!

However, it is true that if you consume saturated and other unhealthy fats in large volumes, you’ll be left too much of the least desirable types of body fat. We don’t mean this in terms of appearance, but in the sense that your health could be compromised… 

When looking at the function of white fat, it’s primary job is to store the energy that we gain from food to be used later on as well as producing and controlling certain hormones within the body. 

White fat produces adiponectin, for example, which aids the muscles and liver in controlling insulin (and therefore managing blood sugar levels). It also has an effect on the function of leptin, cortisol, estrogen, and HGH (the growth hormone), which demonstrates just how important it is to keep it at a healthy level! 

types of body fat: body fat percentage

When kept at a healthy level, white fat is effective in preventing the risk of diabetes and heart disease in the body, which is certianly a bonus (and a good reason to read up on the different types of body fat). 

On the other hand, white fat can contribute to health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, strokes, and more when stored in excess

Too much white fat also affects the metabolism negatively by slowing it down and causing you to gain weight in the areas where it is most difficult to lose. 

Subcutaneous 

Subcutaneous fat is measured by fitness professionals to help calculate the total body fat percentage of the body. Callipers are often used to measure it, as it sits within the folds of the skin and is counted as one of the pinchable types of body fat. 

Compared to the likes of visceral fat, subcutaneous is classed as being slightly lower-risk depending on where it sits on the body. 

If it’s located on the back of the arms, buttocks, and thighs, for example, it’s not as threatening as subcutaneous fat stored around the belly, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. 

Another risk is the overproduction of oestrogen, which can occur in both sexes when too much subcutaneous fat is stored. It causes rapid weight gain, which in turn escalates the risk of developing the same health conditions, as well as cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

Visceral

Unlike the other types of body fat that we’ve already discussed, visceral fat has built a reputation for itself as being ‘active fat’, due to its ability to directly cause serious health problems for those who store it in excess. 

types of body fat: layers of body fat

It’s predominantly stored within the abdominal cavity rather than throughout the body, but it can also exist in the arteries if nothing is done to remove it. 

It can literally wrap itself around the vital organs, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, and intestines, which is harmless in healthy volumes. After all, our organs need something to protect them and healthy fat stores are the perfect solution! 

However, in comparison to the other types of body fat, surplus amounts of visceral fat are dangerous and can rapidly increase the risk of health conditions such as:

  • High blood cholesterol 
  • Diabetes
  • Strokes
  • Heart disease 
  • Cancer 
  • Dementia

To avoid storing dangerous amounts of visceral fat, or to get rid of the suspected stores that you already have, you should take active measures to change your lifestyle as soon as possible. 

These include exercising regularly, good nutrition, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and avoiding stress. The same goes for reducing other dangerous stores of fat, but will definitely get rid of an abundance of all types of body fat! 

How can I tell if I have visceral fat?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions on the web where the different types of body fat are concerned. 

The problem with visceral fat is that it is easily hidden, so if you’re relatively slim but have a diet high in saturated fat then you could still be at risk! 

types of body fat: measure waist for body fat percentage

Without undergoing a CT or MRI scan, there’s no foolproof way of calculating how much visceral fat your body is storing. However, here are some tips to tell whether you’re storing an excess of this type of body fat:

  • Measure your waist (waist-hip ratio should be below 1 for men, and below 0.85 for women)
  • Take to the mirror (if your belly is protruding, you will have some excess of visceral fat) 

Fat Loss Tips: The Different Types of Body Fat

Now that you’ve got a good outline on the different types of body fat and their function, let’s talk about how you can go about losing some of those unhealthy stores. 

Let’s face it, the best way to reap the benefits of body fat is to work with the healthy levels, and against the excess stores. 

There are five main elements to fat loss (which we cover in immense detail within our article on how to lose fat for summer), but you can take a look below:

  • Good hydration 
  • Nutritious diet 
  • Regular exercise routine 
  • Sufficient sleep 
  • Recording of progress 

When sticking to these five elements, you’ll be attacking all excess stores of the types of body fat that your body is holding onto. 

For example, while it’s impossible to isolation train your stomach or thighs if they’re abundant in white or subcutaneous fat, you will certainly be successful in trimming down the extra amount of fat in these areas if you implement each element equally into your daily routine. 

Want to feel the benefits of body fat and rid yourself of the parts that add no value to you or your health? The only way is to commit. 

types of body fat: nutrition is key

For the best results, we recommend applying each element slowly and steadily to your daily life. The first and most important thing to start with is nutrition, as 

You may nail nutrition, but not begin exercising or going to bed earlier for a few weeks afterwards. 

This is fine and actually gives you a better chance of succeeding than trying to do everything at once. If you try to quit the sedentary elements of your lifestyle cold turkey and jump straight into the lifestyle of a personal trainer, you might be in for a nasty shock! 

Overall, the road to ridding yourself of the persistent and nasty types of body fat isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s certainly easier if done gradually and in a way that you enjoy. 

You’ll be glad to hear that long-duration cardio is out of the question, as strength training and HIIT/circuit training are both much more productive for fat loss and building muscle (which in turn aids fat loss). 

types of body fat: stay hydrated

Pick an exercise that you enjoy, eat healthy foods that you like (there is something for everyone), start getting some more sleep and avoiding any unnecessary stress, drink 2-4L of water per day, record your progress to keep yourself motivated, and you’ll soon be on your way to success. 

Visceral Fat: The Most Difficult Fat to Lose 

While white fat, subcutaneous fat, and other types of fat in unhealthy amounts are difficult to lose in certain areas, visceral fat trumps them all by far. 

Being one of the most persistent types of fat, it’s also one of the most dangerous. It causes your stomach to protrude more than it would otherwise, and once you’ve established that you have it (as we explain in our section on ‘how can I tell if I have visceral fat?’), you can take the right steps to get it down to a healthy level. 

First things first, follow our five elements to losing excess fat. Once you’ve made some progress (it usually takes around 3 months to start seeing significant changes in your body composition), you can start to zone in on your abdominal area.

Let’s start with nutrition. Ask yourself, are you consuming any unnecessary carbs that you could replace with protein or whole grain? Try switching out that jacket potato for some whole-grain rice or quinoa, and you’ll see even more of a difference. 

types of body fat: wholegrain rice, quinoa

You may even find it helpful to take a look at the ketogenic diet, which we cover in our article on keto diet and exercise. It replaces most carbs with healthy fats, which is definitely worth a try if you’re looking at building healthier types of body fat in your body! 

This study on the effects of low-carb diets on visceral fat definitely backs up this theory, so we’d recommend researching different low-carb diets at the very least. 

Another great way of reducing visceral fat is by consuming soluble fibre. This type of fibre improves your gut health and keeps your appetite at bay, meaning that you’ll be less tempted to indulge in foods that increase unhealthy types of fat. 

Some examples of soluble fibre are:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains 
  • Legumes 
  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Flaxseeds 

Alongside the nutrition element of things, you should shift your focus to high-impact exercises that truly challenge you, rather than low-intensity cardio.

Click here for the best HIIT workouts for stomach fat, and skip the 50-minute slog on the treadmill! 

Strength training is just as effective as HIIT for losing weight, and some researchers suggest that it actually overtakes all methods of exercise in this area. In fact, why not take the two and throw them together when tackling the different types of body fat? 

Kettlebell HIIT is an ongoing fitness trend, and it's no wonder why. Combining high-intensity workouts with strength training is optimal for fitness, as you gain all the benefits of maximal fat loss from the cardiovascular element, but also from the increased muscle mass (and faster fat burning rate). 

types of body fat: bicycle crunches

You’re probably already aware that we can’t isolation train parts of the body, let alone shed off certain types of body fat alone. However, there is such a thing as an abs workout, which is certainly good for reducing visceral fat alongside a varied exercise routine! 

Try exercises such as bicycle crunches, moving planks, hanging leg raises, russian twists, mountain climbers, etc. all whilst properly engaging the core. 

If you do a 10 minutes abs HIIT workout alongside your usual training, you’ll burn certain types of body fat as well as training the core muscles. 

Before you go! 

Now that we’ve taken you through each of the types of body fat, we hope you’re feeling more like an expert in the field.

Interested in becoming a Personal Trainer? Give our Diploma in Personal Training a look over, or download our free prospectus here

 

Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer

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Written by Chloe Twist

Qualified Personal Trainer & Blogger

Chloe is a qualified Personal Trainer with a passion for blogging, gaming, and playing the guitar. When she's not in the gym, she can be found in her room either swinging kettlebells or binging on Netflix.