The metabolism of microorganisms is regulated through two main mechanisms: changes of enzyme capacities as a consequence of gene expression modulation (“hierarchical control”) and changes of enzyme activities through metabolite-enzyme interactions. An increasing body of evidence indicates that hierarchical control is insufficient to explain metabolic behaviors, but the system-wide impact of metabolic regulation remains largely uncharacterized. To clarify its role, we developed and validated a detailed kinetic model of Escherichia coli central metabolism that links growth to environment. Metabolic control analyses confirm that the control is widely distributed across the network and highlight strong interconnections between all the pathways. Exploration of the model solution space reveals that several robust properties emerge from metabolic regulation, from the molecular level (e.g. homeostasis of total metabolite pool) to the overall cellular physiology (e.g. coordination of carbon uptake, catabolism, energy and redox production, and growth), while allowing a large degree of flexibility at most individual metabolic steps. These properties have important physiological implications for E. coli and significantly expand the self-regulating capacities of its metabolism.