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Supermarket Sampler: Snickers Charged gets caffeine boost

Also, Ronzoni’s new Smart Taste Pasta high in fiber, taste

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Universal Press Syndicate

Snickers Charged. 65 cents per 1.83-ounce bar.

Bonnie: No need to reach for a cup of java in the afternoon to get your caffeine boost. At least that's what the makers of the new Snickers Charged are hoping. This new, limited-edition candy bar with added caffeine is available only through the end of March — that is, unless lots of consumers substitute it for their afternoon brew.

I'd say Masterfoods is trying to ride a bull, specifically the popular Red Bull energy drink containing caffeine, taurine and B vitamins. Snickers Charged contains those same ingredients, but with only 60 milligrams of caffeine to Red Bull's 80. Those numbers are on par with the caffeine in a weak cup of coffee, or one-fifth the kick of a 16-ounce Starbucks Grande.

You do get energy from this or any other candy bar, as energy is just a synonym for calories. The caffeine means it's not for pregnant women or children. The slightly odd flavor makes it not for me.

Carolyn: The first thing I think of when I'm in need of a caffeine kick-start is coffee. I guess I'm old-fashioned, because today you can get a similar buzz from energy drinks and bars, gum, mints, lip balm, beer and now this limited-edition Snickers Charged.

The deliciousness of a Snickers cannot be disputed, and the addition of caffeine, taurine and B vitamins doesn't change that. On the other hand, Snickers Charged does contain a lot more calories and fat than most of the other caffeine alternatives.

If you just want to wake up, you'd be better off with coffee, tea or diet cola. If you traditionally drink these beverages alongside a sweet treat, I can hardly think of one more suited to picking and waking you up than this new Snickers Charged.

Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta. Spaghetti, Thin Spaghetti, Rotini, Elbows and Penne Rigate. $1.69 per 14.5-ounce box.

Bonnie: Ronzoni's new Smart Taste Pasta contains three times the fiber of regular pasta, as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk (300 milligrams), and tastes good. I do recommend Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta over regular durum wheat pasta for its extra calcium and fiber. However, the main ingredient of Smart Taste is white flour, and its extra fiber comes from a modified (or resistant) wheat starch.

Thus, genuine whole-wheat pasta is even better. Tossed with broccoli and cheese, it will be naturally calcium-rich. I especially like Barilla's whole-wheat Pasta PLUS. It contains extra protein and fiber from lentils, chickpeas, oats, spelt and barley. It's also enriched with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and costs about the same as Smart Taste.

Keep in mind, though, that whole-wheat pasta has a shorter shelf life than conventional pasta because of the fat from the whole grains.

Carolyn: The appeal of whole grains is now so strong that a big mainstream company like Stouffer's recently replaced the regular pasta in all of its Lean Cuisine entrees with the whole-wheat kind. And although whole-wheat pasta isn't bad, its heartier texture and flavor can clash with some delicate pasta sauces.

Enter Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta, with as much fiber as whole-wheat pasta but with the taste of the regular kind. In this way, Smart Taste reminds me of Eagle Mills Ultragrain Flour, which also offers the nutritional benefits of whole grains yet still retains the taste and texture of white flour. In fact, Bonnie and I liked Ultragrain so much, we gave it our Golden Shopping Cart Award for best new product of 2006. Could Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta be destined for similar greatness? I, for one, think it's an early contender.

Hunt's Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. Regular and With Garlic. $1.09 to $1.39 per 14.5-ounce can.

Bonnie: What's not to like about fire-roasted tomatoes that are diced and ready to use in cooking? Absolutely nothing.

Hunt's smoky taste is very subtle, as is the garlic in the garlic flavor — and that's a good thing. I find most canned tomato products with garlic too "garlicky."

Nutritionally, canned tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. They're also low in calories, fat-free, and a source of iron and a number of good-for-you antioxidant vitamins. The only caveat is the 300 milligrams of sodium, which is typical of canned veggies.

Carolyn: Roasting vegetables in the oven lends a wonderful charred flavor. But that flavor doesn't survive the canning of Hunt's new Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. Hunt's roasting just cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and slightly increases their sweetness. If it makes Hunt's feel any better, I was also underwhelmed by a similar product from Muir Glen that we reviewed back in 2001.

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