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Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Blood Sugar


Table of Contents


Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Blood Sugar

The body uses three main nutrients to function—carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

These nutrients are digested into simpler compounds. Carbohydrates are used for energy (glucose). Fats are used for energy after they are broken into fatty acids. Protein can also be used for energy, but the first job is to help with making hormones, muscle, and other proteins.

Nutrients needed by the body and what they are used for

Type of nutrient

Where it is found

How it is used

Carbohydrate (starches and sugars)
  • Breads
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Foods with sugar

Broken down into glucose, used to supply energy to cells. Extra is stored in the liver.

Protein
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Milk products
  • Vegetables

Broken down into amino acids, used to build muscle and to make other proteins that are essential for the body to function.

Fat
  • Oils
  • Butter
  • Egg yolks
  • Animal products

Broken down into fatty acids to make cell linings and hormones. Extra is stored in fat cells.

After a meal, the blood sugar (glucose) level rises as carbohydrate is digested. This signals the beta cells of the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin helps glucose enter the body's cells to be used for energy. If all the glucose is not needed for energy, some of it is stored in fat cells and in the liver as glycogen. As sugar moves from the blood to the cells, the blood glucose level returns to a normal between-meal range.

Several hormones and processes help regulate the blood sugar level and keep it within a certain range (70 mg/dL to 120 mg/dL). When the blood sugar level falls below that range, which may happen between meals, the body has at least three ways of reacting:

Other hormones can raise the blood sugar level, including epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol released by the adrenal glands and growth hormone released by the pituitary gland.


Credits for Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Blood Sugar

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised June 24, 2013

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