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What is Body Fat?

Updated: Jun 24

What is body fat? Why do we have it? Why do we need it? Body fat is adipose tissue, which is a connective tissue that extends throughout your body. There are two different kinds of fat found in the body: subcutaneous fat & visceral fat. Visceral fat lies deep within your abdominal walls and surrounds and protects your organs. Subcutaneous fat is found under the skin. This is the fat you can pinch and squeeze. Fat is an essential part of our bodies. Too little or too much fat is unhealthy.

Visceral fat is stored deep in the belly and around the organs. It makes up about 10% of our body fat. It has a major impact on the liver, an organ critical to metabolism. Blood that leaves visceral fat goes directly to the liver and brings with it anything made by the fat tissue, including fatty acids, hormones, and pro-inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals and hormones can be toxic to the body. Visceral fat produces more toxic substances than subcutaneous fat, so it is more dangerous. Even in thin people, having visceral fat carries a range of health risks. Visceral fat is linked to diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and dementia.

Subcutaneous fat is just under the skin and is the most plentiful in the body; 90% of our body fat. This is the fat we can see and pinch. Subcutaneous fat pads your muscles and bones to protect you from bumps and falls. It helps your blood vessels and nerves get from your skin to your muscles. It controls your body temperature, making sure you don't get too warm or too cold. Too much subcutaneous fat can cause health issues. For instance, belly fat makes more fatty acids, which can increase insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes as well as heart disease, stroke, and other diseases.

If you consume more energy (calories) than you expend, you will gain weight. Excess calories are stored throughout your body as fat. Your genes determine how much tissue you have in your body to store fat. Your body stores this fat within specialized fat cells (adipose tissue) — either by enlarging fat cells, which are always present in the body, or by creating more of them. If you don’t have the capacity to make a lot of fat, you won’t have enough space to store extra calories. The extra calories will spill over into your liver, muscles, and heart. That’s what causes metabolic disease.

Body fat is our fuel tank—a strategic calorie reserve to protect against starvation. It provides energy for the body. Fat also surrounds and cushions vital organs like the kidneys and insulates us against the cold. Fat tissue also performs functions in the body such as the release of hormones that control metabolism and appetite that affect insulin sensitivity. Immune cells found in fat tissue play a role in inflammation—both anti-inflammatory and proinflammatory. Fat cells also secrete proteins and build enzymes involved with immune function and the creation of steroid hormones.

The amount of fat cells in our bodies is determined during adolescence and tends to be stable throughout adulthood if weight remains stable. Eating too many calories in the long-term can cause fat cells to increase in size and be stored in various areas throughout the body which can lead to a risk of chronic inflammation, glitches in a healthy metabolism, and potential for new fat cells to grow. Larger fat cells become resistant to insulin, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Weight loss can reduce the size of fat cells but not the number of fat cells.

There are two types of fat cells, brown and white. Infants carry the most brown fat, known as baby fat, which keeps them warm. It is stimulated by cold temperatures to generate heat because newborns do not shiver. You lose most of your brown fat as you grow. However you do retain some brown fat. Adults have very small amounts of brown fat in the neck, collarbone, kidneys, and spinal cord. Lean people typically have more brown fat than overweight people. Loss of brown fat peaks around 60 years old and then decreases in later years. This explains why elderly people are always cold.

White fat cells tends to accumulate in the belly, thighs, and hips. In addition to being a fuel storage center, the white fat cells also send and receive over 50 hormonal signals that help regulate metabolism. An excess amount of white fat can cause insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause swelling and could bring on more serious things like stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.

There are healthy body fat percentages. Women should maintain a body fat between 18-28% and men between 10-20%. Having too much or too little body fat is unhealthy. Using the InBody scale, which uses bioelectrical impedance to measure body fat is the most cost-effective way to measure. This analysis sends electrical currents through your body. It then measures the speed at which it travels. It’s best for monitoring changes in your body fat. It also measures your muscle mass and water mass. It is quick and easy and when done weekly, you can monitor how changes in diet and exercise will change body fat percent.

One way to lose body fat is to eat less calories than your resting metabolic rate. Taking a resting metabolic rate or RMR test tells the exact number of calories your body burns at rest. From there a diet that is specific to your body can be set with the exact number of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats needed to help you reach your goal. A healthy diet includes lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables. It should also includes soluble fiber to keep your gut bacteria healthy and promotes overall fat loss by reducing your appetite. Try to limit trans fats, refined sugars, sodium and processed foods. Another way to reduce body fat is through exercise. Both resistance training and cardiovascular exercises burn body fat. Find an exercise you enjoy and be consistent doing it.

In conclusion, body fat is essential. We all have it. We all need it. However, keeping your body fat percentage within the normal range is important for your health. The best way to monitor your body fat is by weighing on the InBody scale weekly. Schedule your appointment today.

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