Back in 1990 when I was writing my weight loss book, Lose to Win, I came across research showing that people have two types of fat: “white fat” and “brown fat.” While both are fat, they are metabolically different from each other.
The theory back then was that some of us are genetically disposed to store the fat we eat as white fat, or white adipose tissue (WAT). WAT is the fat that tends to be stored in areas that are easy to see (think “love handles”). Other people, however, are more prone to store fat as brown fat, which is the dark-colored adipose tissue rich in blood vessels. Brown fat is more metabolically active than white fat, which means it burns more calories than white fat. (Yes you read that right, fat tissue does, indeed, burn calories.) And so many began to link brown fat and weight loss.
While the thinking has continued that people who store more brown fat are luckier when it comes to weight loss, new research now suggests that eating omega-3s may help give everyone the ability to burn more fat by creating a third type of fat, called “beige fat.”
Omega-3s for Weight Loss
Teruo Kawada, a leading researcher at Japan's Kyoto University, set out to determine whether certain foods can trigger fat burning. What his team found is that oil-triggering receptors in the gut may use omega-3s to turn white fat cells into “beige cells.” These beige cells are similar to brown cells in that they promote weight loss.
In 2013 Kawada released the results of his investigation with mice. One group of mice received a diet rich in heavy fats, while the other groups received the same diet along with fish oils containing omega-3s. He found that the mice consuming omega-3–rich fish oil gained 15–25% less fat and 5–10% less weight than those eating only the heavy fats. Researchers suspected that omega-3s somehow activated the sympathetic nervous systems in mice, creating more fat-burning cells.
There are more discoveries still unfolding about the role that hormones, proteins, and other environmental factors may play in obesity management. But the idea of eating omega-3s for weight loss is right on the money. I've long advised that a diet rich in omega-3s can help to encourage weight loss. In fact, omega-3s are part of the “secret sauce” for weight loss in my Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) Diet.
What’s the Bottom Line for You?
It's my belief that these findings about brown, white, and now beige fat represent just one more great reason to be sure that you are getting enough omega-3s in your diet and nutritional supplement program. Eating omega-3s to lose weight is smart, but ultimately omega-3s are essential for good overall health as well. Omega-3 benefits include supporting your heart, preventing heart attacks, supporting healthy blood pressure, helping to lower your triglycerides, reducing joint pain, promoting brain health, and more.
Some of the best dietary sources of omega-3s are wild salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts. To ensure that you’re getting enough omega-3 benefits, I also recommend taking a daily omega-3 supplement that’s pure and clean, and that comes from a sustainable source. I like algae and squid oils because they are clean, sustainable, and don’t cause “fishy burps” like fish oil can.
Plus, it’s important to remember that eating omega-3s to lose weight is just one strategy to be incorporated into a healthy weight loss program.