Eating food is how you provide fuel to your body to stay alive. Food is digested by a complex system of organs, hormones and enzymes and eventually becomes the usable energy for your cells called glucose. Your brain and muscles must have a supply of glucose to function.

The body maintains a minimal level of glucose in the blood, about 70 mg/dl, and also regulates surges of glucose, when you eat a meal, to not exceed 140 mg/dl. When you are not eating, your liver has stored glucose, called liver glycogen, readily available to keep your blood levels at a minimum functioning level. Insulin is minimally at work when there is no food, but another hormone called glucagon is responsible for breaking down the glycogen stores. Your muscles also have stored glucose, muscle glycogen that is constantly being burned for energy -  more so when you move. This is the “baseline of fuel” that must be maintained to keep alive.

When you eat a meal, and the food is digested, your blood glucose rises. Typically, two hours after a meal is the highest concentration of glucose in the blood. This rise in blood glucose signals the pancreas to release insulin from the beta cells. Insulin makes the glucose available to the cells of the body. From the first bite of food, there is a burst of insulin secreted to control blood sugar rise. Then a steady stream of insulin is released to handle the continued digestion of the meal. Around the clock, a small amount of insulin keeps control over blood glucose. Insulin’s effect is to lower your blood glucose by transporting the glucose into the cells of the body to be burned for energy or stored as fat. Another hormone, called amylin, is released with the insulin and works in the intestinal tract to regulate glucose absorption.

When this complex system of fueling your body malfunctions, you develop diabetes. Managing diabetes is like a balancing act, and the more you understand what you can do, the better control you will have. You now need to take an active role in keeping your blood glucose as close to normal as possible.

Reviewed by Clara Schneider MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN - 05/13