Skip to content

3 Different Types of Fat Cells and How to Lose Them

Experts explain the distinction between the different types of body fats and which one is the most harmful. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

While we use the term fat to describe all body fat, there's actually various types and it's important to note their distinction because each one serves a different role. We need some fat to give us energy, protect our organs and absorb nutrients, but too much is unhealthy and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explained the different types of fat and why some are dangerous. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


White Fat

woman demonstrating concept reduct your gut after 40 workout

Dr. Christopher McGowan, Gastroenterologist and founder of True You Weight Loss tells us, "White adipose (fat) cells are what most people would view as "fat." White fat is located under the skin (subcutaneous) and around the organs (visceral). The primary function of white fat is energy storage. In times of excess calorie ingestion, fat cells store energy as triglycerides. In times of fasting, the triglycerides are broken down via lipolysis to provide energy for the body.  White fat also contributes to metabolism and weight regulation, producing key hormones like leptin – a hormone critical in regulating satiety and weight."

Subcutaneous and visceral fat are both white fats and Dr. Gabriela Rodríguez Ruiz, MD PhD FACS, a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty adds, "Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat beneath the skin, which you can pinch. This type of fat can be more visible in certain areas, such as the thighs, hips, and buttocks. While subcutaneous fat isn't as dangerous as visceral fat, excessive subcutaneous fat storage can still lead to health issues like diabetes and heart disease. Both visceral and subcutaneous fat are types of belly fat. Abdominal or central obesity occurs when too much fat accumulates in the abdominal area." 


Brown Fat

doctor patient closeup fatty liver disease

Dr. McGowan explains, "Brown fat specializes in generating heat to protect against hypothermia in cold environments. The presence of mitochondria, which generate heat, is responsible for the 'brown' color of this type of adipose tissue. Brown fat is more present in newborns, and progressively decreases with age. In adults, brown fat is located primarily in the interscapular (between the shoulders) and perirenal (around the kidney) regions. In contrast to white fat, brown fat may actually protect against obesity and metabolic disease."


Beige Fat

Woman sitting at the gym with pink pilates ball.

Dr. McGowan says, "Beige fat is a combination of white and brown fat. Also known as 'brite" fat (brown in white), beige fat is composed of white fat interspersed with brown fat cells. Beige fat is located in similar areas as white fat, such as the subcutaneous tissue. Beige fat is dynamic, and can shift to a greater concentration of white or brown cells in response to certain triggers, such as cold temperature, stress, and exercise. This shift of white toward brown cell composition may be protective against obesity and its related disease, which is currently an area of intense scientific research."


Why White Fat is the Most Dangerous Type of Fat

shred belly fat

Dr. McGowan emphasizes, "Fat itself is not dangerous. In all forms, it is a critical component of metabolism, energy homeostasis, and hormone production. However, excess white cell fat mass defines the condition of obesity. Obesity is the underlying cause of numerous health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and multiple cancers." 

According to Dr. Rodríguez Ruiz, "Visceral fat is the most dangerous because it surrounds the organs and can lead to insulin resistance and inflammation. This is because visceral fat is linked with high levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids, which contain pro-inflammatory molecules. They are often found in processed foods and sugary drinks. The normal visceral fat range sits at 10% of your body fat."

Dr. Dimitar Marinov, MD, Ph.D., and an Assistant Professor in Hygiene and Epidemiology tells us, "White fat cells can be dangerous depending on the area where they are stored as well as the amount of fat that has accumulated in them. White fat cells make up 3 types of fat –essential fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat. Essential fat is not dangerous as it helps support the structure of the brain, the nerves, and the internal organs. It has protective functions and helps keep these organs in proper shape and "in place.

Visceral fat is a dangerous type of fat and it is also made entirely of white fat cells. That's because the visceral white fat cells release a lot of free fatty acids and other proinflammatory molecules, which can disrupt various metabolic processes, reduce insulin sensitivity, increase levels of bad cholesterol,cause systemic inflammation, and ultimately contribute to the development of chronic diseases – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.

Subcutaneous fat is made mostly of white fat cells but this is also where you can find the other 2 types –brown and beige fat cells. Unfortunately, too much subcutaneous white fat can lead to similar risks as visceral fat. What is more, too much subcutaneouswhite fat in the legs can disrupt normal blood circulation and lead to stasis of the blood in the veins. This can lead to circulation problems such as thrombophlebitis and even thromboembolism."


How to Get Rid of Fat


Dr. McGowan states, "Weight loss is the primary mechanism for reducing overall fat mass. Whether through diet, exercise, or bariatric and metabolic surgery, a decrease in total body weight loss will result in a corresponding decrease in total fat mass. Exercise even in the absence of absolute weight loss may also lead to a reduction in fat mass. Targeted removal of fat, such as through liposuction, may lead to a focal reduction in fat mass but does not appear to confer the same metabolic benefits as generalized weight loss." 

Dr. Rodríguez Ruiz says, "Specifically, movement is the best medicine for getting rid of visceral fat. Regular exercise, such as walking, biking, or running, can help. People who exercised for 30 minutes a day had lower visceral fat levels than those who didn't exercise.

To get rid of subcutaneous fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This can be done through diet and exercise. A combination of cardio exercises (like jogging and rowing) and strength training (like lifting weights) is the most effective way to lose subcutaneous fat, as they work by increasing your metabolism. Lifting also helps you stimulate muscle tissue, which can help to burn more calories even when you're at rest. Central obesity can be reduced by following a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help your body to burn more calories and lose weight. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of exercise that has been shown to be effective in reducing abdominal fat. It involves short bursts of intense activity followed by recovery periods, helping you burn more calories in a shorter time. Plus, you can do it at home with no equipment needed. For instance, you could run for 30 seconds, followed by a one-minute recovery period. Then, repeat this cycle for 10 minutes to complete a HIIT workout."


Certain Lifestyle Changes Can Help Reduce Serious Health Risks

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a measuring tape to prescribe a weight loss diet

Dr. Rodríguez Ruiz explains, "In general, lifestyle changes are the best way to lose weight and keep it off. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and reducing stress levels. Making these changes can help you to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
Filed Under