What You Need to Know About the 4 Types of Fat for Weight Loss

We’ve taught ourselves that fat=bad over the years, but that’s much more a myth than a reality.

Even professional athletes carry fat in their bodies, though much of it is essential fat that helps regulate the bodies temperature and its ability to absorb vitamins.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, women need to carry 10 to 13 percent of their total weight in essential fat to maintain good health. For weight loss and overall health, this essential fat should go nowhere, but there are a few types of fat that can—and should—be regulated within reason.

White fat: This type of fat, also called subcutaneous fat or “white adipocytes”, is the most common type in your body. It usually forms around those meatier areas like hips and thighs, but it can develop in most areas of your body. White fat is actually white in color and it rests just underneath your skin, creating the curves your see on your body and padding your body and its energy supply.

“White fat is the largest energy backup in the body, and provides cushion for our organs and external body structure,” Nareen Sajwani, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told Women’s Health. “In addition, it produces leptin and a form of estrogen which regulate hunger, and has receptors for hormones such as growth hormone, cortisol, and insulin.”

How to lose it: Though white fat can lower your risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, it’s isn’t a ‘the more, the merrier’ situation. Smaller fat cells can actually release more of the good-for-you hormones than larger ones, and too much of this type of fat can lead to leptin resistance.

The best measure of your white fat is to measure your body fat percentage as more non-essential fat on the body is white.

Brown fat: Opposite of white fat is brown fat, which is more akin to muscle and burns energy rather than stores it. It’s found most prominently in the neck and collar areas. This type, which is brown in color, and its energy-burning properties are packed with mitochondria, a cell property that burns fatty acids to regulate the body’s temperature.

This type of fat is relatively new to be discovered in humans and, until recently, it was thought only to be present in children as a body heat regulator.

How to lose it: You don’t want to! This is the type of fat you’ll actually want to grow, though it’s still unclear whether you can convert white fat into brown.

To help burn calories from white fat, though, increasing your exercise activity level to 45-minute sessions a few times a week can help.

Early research like one Harvard study has also found that cooling your body’s core temperature is a way to increase brown fat activity, though you won’t grow this fat on your body.

Visceral fat: This pesky type is also referred to as “belly fat,” but it’s actually white fat stored within your abdominal cavity and surrounding your vital organs. Because of this, calling visceral fat “belly fat” can be misleading as people with flat bellies can still have scary amounts of this toxic fat as it is stored more internally.

“Researchers have found that visceral fat secretes a protein called retinol-binding protein 4, which has been shown to increase resistance to insulin, leading to glucose intolerance and Type 2 diabetes,” Sajwani says. “High visceral fat storage has also been linked to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.”

How to lose it: To determine if you have unhealthy levels of visceral fat, Steven Wilson, M.D., a family medicine physician with Redlands Community Hospital in California, told Women’s Health to simply measure your waist circumference. “A waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman is considered abnormal and consistent with increased visceral body fat,” he says.

To fight this fat, a balanced diet is very important, particularly your regulation of eating processed foods. These unnatural foods tend to have inflammatory properties for visceral fat, but eating protein, unsaturated fatty acids and fibrous foods can help you lose it.