A 400-pound mama bear can gain 150 pounds of brown fat as she heads for a six-month semihibernation (during those months she gives birth, nurses and eats the cubs' droppings to recycle into milk and protein, but that's probably more than you wanted to know). The brown fat is higher than white fat in healthy DHA omega-3 fatty acid, and it's full of little cellular power centers called mitochondria. In bears (and people), it provides calories, generates heat and helps regulate insulin use and glucose uptake. And burning brown fat reduces insulin resistance — a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes — and helps you lose weight!
Fortunately, you don't need to sleep away the winter to get the benefits of brown fat! You can turn that nasty white fat under your skin and around your internal organs (it causes inflammation, triggers insulin resistance, and promotes cancer, heart disease and a lousy sex life) into shades of brown fat called brite fat (that's brown fat from white fat) and beige fat.
Here's our two-step plan for how to brown your fat!
1. Turn up your thermostat with aerobic exercise — 10,000 steps a day, plus 20 minutes of sweaty aerobics three times a week in a cool room. Also smart: two to three days a week of strength training to build muscle mass.
2. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which cause you to accumulate more white fat. Brown-fat-friendly oils are mono- (olive oil) and polyunsaturated (canola oil), and omega-3's in avocados, walnuts, flax, ocean trout and salmon.
BREASTFEEDING: GOOD FOR MOM, BABY AND ALL OF US
Women are frequently harassed for breastfeeding in public. It reached a fever pitch in 2006, when a woman was kicked off a flight for breastfeeding while the plane was still at the gate. We wonder what the airline would have done in midair. Clearly, the crew didn't know what was best for baby, mom or them.
Breastfeeding benefits everyone, not just infants, who gain immune strength and protection from everything from diarrhea to type 2 diabetes and asthma. If all new moms breastfed for the first year, it could help women avoid 5,000 cases of breast cancer, 54,000 cases of hypertension and 14,000 heart attacks annually. And health care savings? A whopping $860 million a year, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
So, our recommendations are:
1. When possible, extend breastfeeding from six to 12 months (or more). Nursing in the morning and before bedtime may help accommodate introduction of solid food and your work schedule. Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic offers employees breaks for expressing milk, and your boss should too!
2. Acknowledge that some people find viewing your bare breast embarrassing; it shouldn't be a hardship for you to cover up a bit.
3. To make breastfeeding as healthful as possible for you and your child, eat five to nine servings of vegetables and fruit daily, only 100 percent whole grains and skinless poultry and fish (we love salmon and ocean trout). Skip red meat, added sugars and syrups, and all trans fats. Plus, take an omega-3 DHA algal oil supplement — 900 milligrams a day.
HELPING YOUR TEEN LOSE WEIGHT
When Carole King wrote the song "Happy Being Fat," she nailed the attitude that many overweight teens have about being prodded to slim down: "Don't tell me to go on a diet. Don't give me no pills. Just leave me alone with my ice-cream cone, and let me eat my fill."
And studies show that when weight-loss pressure comes from parents, the majority of adolescents ignore the message or fixate on destructive (and ineffective) weight-control behaviors such as bingeing. But a small shift in how you talk to your teen about eating habits can bolster his or her brain power, self-image and chances for a brighter future — and isn't that what you really want?
• Talk about healthful eating, not weight loss. Teens are sensitive to parental criticism. Changing your conversation from weight loss to healthful habits makes sure they don't overreact or get defensive.
• Share nutritional info. Let them know that people who eat five to nine servings of veggies a day and avoid stripped-down carbs and saturated fats are happier, have healthier hearts, less cancer and end up with better jobs. All that from a carrot!
• Make better nutrition a family project. Do meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking together. Dads, studies show that if you bring the healthful eating message (we suggest the Mediterranean diet) to the table, it has special powers to transform your teen's eating habits and weight.
• And try walking together, too. Enjoy talking about world events, or whatever, but not obesity! Then all your RealAges will be younger.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.