Spinach Cultigen Variation for Tissue Carotenoid Concentrations Influences Human Serum Carotenoid Levels and Macular Pigment Optical Density Following a 12-Week Dietary Intervention

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Increasing intakes of carotenoid-rich plant foods can increase serum carotenoid concentrations and macular pigment optical density (MPOD) in most, but not all, individuals. Research objectives for this study were to (1) characterize tissue lutein (L) and β-carotene (BC) concentrations in carotenoid-rich spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) cultigens and (2) determine serum carotenoid and MPOD responses in human subjects consuming spinach cultigens differing in tissue L and BC concentrations. Thirteen spinach cultigens were evaluated for carotenoid accumulations over two consecutive growing seasons. ‘Springer' (8.4 and 6.5 mg/100 g of fresh mass for L and BC, respectively) and ‘Spinner' (12.1 and 9.2 mg/100 g of fresh mass for L and BC, respectively) spinach cultigens were selected for a dietary intervention study and represented low- and high-L concentrations. The high-L (‘Spinner') and low-L (‘Springer') spinach treatment groups consisted of 10 subject volunteers ingesting five 50-g spinach servings/week during a 12-week intervention. Average serum L concentrations increased by 22% (P = 0.07) from baseline (0.233 μmol/L) to 12 weeks (0.297 μmol/L) for subjects consuming low-L spinach. Subjects consuming high-L spinach showed increases of 33% (P = 0.04) in serum L from baseline (0.202 μmol/L) to 12 weeks (0.300 μmol/L). Average MPOD did not change for the low-L treatment group; however, subjects in the high-L group demonstrated increases (P = 0.02) in MPOD at the 30‘ eccentricity between baseline (0.343) and 12 weeks (0.374). This study demonstrates that serum carotenoid and MPOD are determined by L concentrations present in the spinach matrix. Results emphasize the role of cultigen selection among vegetable crops in determining phytochemical effects on human health.

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