While you may not be aware of it, you do have energy-burning fat cells inside your body called brown fat. Note that I did NOT say fat-burning.
And lord knows, there is enough advertising in the weight loss industry for “fat-burning” supplements. You can’t miss the ads for “fat-burning” B12 shots (incidentally, B12 has very little to do with either fat burning or energy levels). And you’ve probably already deleted 10 emails today promoting products or exercises for “fat-burning.”
Let’s not mistake fat burning for energy-burning. You have cells within your body that have the potential to burn calories merely to generate heat. It’s like a dream come true. Eat all the extra calories you want and never gain a pound because you burn them off almost instantly.
Ok, so maybe it’s not that easy. But, babies and bats are well-known to have a type of fat called brown fat. Brown fat is designed to help you keep your body temperature up by burning calories for heat. As you got older, you lost much of this brown fat, but the potential to convert some of your ugly, health-destroying white fat into brown fat.
Have you ever had a hard time sleeping because it seemed like you were roasting and it was not due to some type of infection your body was fighting off? Next time this happens, look back on the day and see if just maybe you took in an excessive amount of calories. In this instance, it was your body kicking up the temp trying to burn off those extra calories to maintain a stable weight.
In recent years, there has been increasing focus in medical research on brown fat. In this process, science has also discovered the presence of beige fat. Beige fat works much the same as brown fat, but are likely to be more “switchable” based on certain conditions. Which, of course, has the drug companies drooling in an attempt to find a drug that can turn on beige fat.
Until then, there are ways we already know of to turn on brown and beige fat. Here are some examples:
- Cold exposure over several days can increase the amount of brown fat present.
- Whole body vibration release irisin, a hormone that increases the amount of brown fat.
- Chili peppers contain capsaicin, a compound that has been shown to increase brown fat.
- Sucralose, that wonderful artificial sweetener that everyone seems to think is “OK” in small amounts, lowered the activity of brown fat.
This particular study adds another compound-containing group of foods to the list. In it, researchers looked at the ability of nitrate in foods at converting white (bad) fat into calorie-burning brown fat in mice. They found that dietary nitrate not only increased the conversion of white fat to brown fat cells (a process called “browning”) but there was a change in the DNA action of brown cells to burn more calories.
Not too shabby.
So what foods are high in nitrate? It should come as no surprise that Big Macs are not on the list. Neither are fries. But here is the short list (ranked from highest levels to lower levels from the AJCN)):
- Celery, cress, chervil, lettuce, red beetroot, spinach, rocket (rucola)
- Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, parsley
- Cabbage, dill, turnip, savoy cabbage
- Broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, pumpkin, chicory
I do have to admit that most of this list is not on my plate on a regular basis. (umm…or ever…what exactly IS chervil??). That being said, foods like spinach, celery and parsley can easily be added to your diet with very little change. It is simple changes like this that has the potential to help your body actually burn more calories and maintain an ideal body weight.