Why you should be a meat and potatoes guy

The spud gets a bad rap, but the key to making it a diet staple is knowing how to eat (and pair) it right.

For some reason potatoes are often grouped with other highly debated diet destroyers like bread, sugar and godforsaken gluten. Blame its ugly alter-ego, the French fry or the potato chip or the Atkins diet, but the potato in its purist form is nothing to fear. In fact, when you choose the right kind of spud and pair it properly, the potato can be a nice diet staple.

“One medium potato contains 79% water, 10 vitamins and minerals, 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein,” says Ryan Andrews, RD of Precision Nutrition. “In fact, you could eat only potatoes and still meet your basic protein needs.

But potatoes do have a relatively high glycemic index, and high GI foods can cause blood sugar swings and insulin spikes. "That would only happen if a potato is eaten alone, which is not very common," says Andrews. "When you pair one with vegetables or meat, which are all very low on the glycemic index, it averages out and assuages any GI concern."

Plus, you'll be less likely to reach for dessert after a classic meat and potatoes meal. "Studies have shown that potatoes are one of the most satiating foods both short and long term," says Andrews.

So during these cold winter months when comfort food cravings are at their peak, do not fear the potato (with these three caveats):

1. Keep it clean: Processed potato products like fries and chips pack, on average, almost 400 calories per serving (a simple baked potato has only 160).

2. Get it while it's hot: The starch molecules in the potato swell during cooking, making it easier on your digestive enzymes. When it cools, the starch structure becomes harder to digest.

3. Go organic: Because potato crops are grown in mass quantities, they are often sprayed with pesticides like glycoalkaloids, which is toxic when ingested. Going organic is the safest bet, but removing the skin and storing potatoes in a cool, dark place will help, too. If you ever notice a greenish hue after exposing store-bought spuds to sunlight, toss them out immediately.