Universal Press Syndicate
TrueNorth Nut Snacks. Almond, Peanut and Pecan-Almond-Peanut Clusters; Almond, Peanut and Pistachio Crisps; and Honey Wheat and Toasted Sesame Crunches. $3.29 per 4.5-ounce to 7-ounce bag or $7.88 per 24-ounce club-size bag.

Bonnie: I'm truly impressed with the direction Frito-Lay is taking with its snacks. Recently, it purchased Miss Vickie's all-natural kettle chips, and now it's introducing TrueNorth, a new line of all-natural nut snacks. TrueNorth offers nut clusters (slightly sweet), nut crunches (slightly sweet and salty, with a crunchy outer coating) and nut crisps (crackerlike wafers with nut flavor and whole nuts).

I liked the crackers the least, but they're still an example of smart snacking since the main ingredient is the named nutritious nut. The nut clusters are my favorites. They combine almonds, peanuts or a combo of almonds, pecans and peanuts to make square crunchy treats with about 170 calories, 13 grams of total fat, 2 to 3 grams of fiber, 5 to 6 grams of protein, 5 to 6 grams of sugar and all the goodness of nuts in a 1-ounce or 6- to 8-piece serving.

Carolyn: With its plain grocery-bag packaging, "100 percent natural" banner and true-blue name, TrueNorth would seem to be positioning itself as the Real Simple of peanut snacks. But if you want to talk truthfully (as a product with this name would seem to demand), this line is neither that unique nor that natural — at least in the sense of being non-manufactured and unadorned.

All three sub-lines are clones of products made by other companies: Beer Nuts CrunchNuts, in the case of the nut crunches; Blue Diamond Nut Thins, in the case of these nut crisps; and Planters Peanut Bar, in the case of the nut clusters. There is nothing simple or natural about any of them other than their "pure" ingredients.

The nut crunches, for instance, are coated in a flavored crunchy batter in a way that already rich, flavorful and crunchy nuts don't need. Whether called thins or crisps (as here), nut crackers are another weird idea — although TrueNorth's peanut variety could make a less messy substitute for the popular (and much less expensive) peanut butter crackers.

Like Bonnie, I liked the nut clusters the best. They're like the Planters Peanut Bar, only much less sweet — sort of a pleasant compromise between that candy bar and unadorned peanuts.

Oscar Mayer Mini Hot Dogs. Beef and Cheese. $2.93 per 10-ounce resealable bag.

Bonnie: Just to set things straight, I'm not a hot dog eater. Sure, I may have an all-beef one at a picnic once every couple of years, but I don't go out of my way to have them. I prefer eating less-processed food.

That said, let me now tell you about these new mini hot dogs that Oscar Mayer would like you to buy as a snack for your kids. One variety is all-beef, the other a turkey-pork mixture filled with processed cheddar cheese. Both are high in protein. But, like most hot dogs, these are also high in total fat, saturated fats and sodium. In fact, just four of these mini-links serve up almost a quarter of the daily recommended limit of fat, saturated fat and sodium for the 2000-calorie-diet recommended for 7- to 10-year-old boys and 15- to 18-year-old girls. (The percentage would be larger for young children, since they require fewer calories.) Peanut butter in celery, hummus on whole wheat pita or cheese with whole-wheat pretzels would make much better high-protein snacks.

Carolyn: How do you improve hot dog sales in a nation of snackers? By turning hot dogs into a snack, as Oscar Mayer has just done. These Oscar Mayer Mini Hot Dogs are bite-sized, stuffed with cheese (in one case), and packaged in resealable pouches not unlike the ones now used for salty snacks.

This is an unnatural and a dangerous thing. One reason God made banana splits so complicated to make and messy to eat is so that we wouldn't overeat them. I think a similar divine will explains why, before these came along, you had to go down to the 7-Eleven to buy hot dogs. Put one of these Oscar Mayer Mini bags in your fridge and there's not a prayer anyone in the family would snack on grapes instead.

Nestle Toll House Fudgy Brownies With Peanut Butter Filling. $3.49 per 19-ounce package.

Bonnie: Talk about overkill! These are chocolate brownies with a layer of peanut butter in the center and chocolate chips sprinkled on top. That translates to 150 calories, 7 grams of total fat (of which 3 are saturated), and 14 grams of sugar in a 2-inch square of something that's way too over-the-top for me.

Carolyn: I was not a fan of Nestle refrigerated dough's past dough-filled products like its cookie dough with layers of fudge or caramel, which are no longer on the market. The quality of those fillings was a problem, along with the added sweetness that cookies and brownies usually don't need.

This peanut butter filling is much better, both in quality and in balancing out the brownie's sweetness. Chocolate and peanut butter is a proven combination dating back to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. These brownies remind me even more of Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Peanut Butter cookies, a favorite with me. The chocolate chips sprinkled on top ups the indulgence in a good way, no matter what Bonnie might say.


Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat" (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. For previous columns, visit www.supermarketsampler.com, and for more food info and chances to win free products, visit www.biteofthebest.com. © Universal Press Syndicate