The Colors of Body Fat and Their Functions

by Melissa Chichester

Have you ever seen a picture of what fat looks like in the body?

If you have, it was likely portrayed as a yellow, jelly-like substance. However, the fat in your body is actually very distinct – and you might be surprised to learn that healthcare providers identify the function of fat by what color it is. 

Common colors of fat in your body include brown, beige, and white fat. So what exactly do these colors mean? Let’s find out. 

White fat 

White fat is also known as white adipose tissue. It makes up most of the fat in your body. The primary purpose of white fat is to store and release. White fat is also the type of fat that protects your organs and provides cushioning. 

Too much white fat in the body is what leads to obesity. Furthermore, white fat often looks yellow because carotenoid pigments from fruits and vegetables metabolize slowly. 

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Brown fat 

Brown fat – or brown adipose tissue – is not as abundant in the body as white fat. However, brown fat is in charge of some essential functions. Most notably, brown fat helps regulate your body temperature. It stores energy and activates thermogenesis – or the process of heat production in the body. This type of fat helps you maintain your body temperature and helps burn calories. 

Brown fat molecules are smaller than white fat molecules and their location varies between birth and adulthood. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Brown fat in adults is located around the neck, kidneys, adrenal glands, heart, and chest.” 

Beige fat 

Beige fat or beige adipose tissue is a mix of white and brown fat. Researchers have taken interest in this type of fat recently, due to its ability to carry out some functions of both brown and white fat. For example, beige fat can burn energy like brown fat, but it’s not as effective. The ability of beige fat to protect organs is also being studied. 

How do I know what kind of fat I have in my body?

If you want to see the different types of fat in your body, you can request several types of tests from your doctor, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA)
  • 3-D body scanner

How does dietary fat impact body fat?

Fat is an important nutrient. However, the quality of fat is what makes a difference to your health and well-being. 

Sources of good fats include:

Fats that contribute to excess white fat include saturated fats and trans fats from fried foods. 

Overall, body fat is important – but when there is excess white fat, it can become detrimental to your health. Speak with a healthcare professional for more information about how nutrition and activity can impact your levels of brown, white, and beige fat.