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J.A. Kirkpatrick, J.B. Murphy, and T.E. Morelock

Interest in the health benefits of vegetables prompted an investigation of the levels of carotenoids in commercial varieties and UA breeding lines of spinach. Plant carotenoids perform a critical function as antioxidants, providing protection against a variety of reactive oxygen species generated primarily during photosynthesis. When ingested by humans, these compounds maintain their antioxidant activities and are receiving considerable attention in relation to multiple health benefits, including cancer prevention. While the best-known and most-studied carotenoid is beta-carotene, other carotenoids are now receiving attention due to their higher antioxidant activity compared to beta-carotene. Most dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are relatively high in carotenoids, especially lutein. In this study, significant differences in average content of both lutein and beta-carotene were found between genetic lines of spinach. Some lines exhibited considerable variation between plants, while others were highly uniform. There was a very high correlation (r 2 = 0.96) between lutein content and betacarotene content. The significant difference between spinach lines suggests that improvement of general carotenoid antioxidants and lutein could be obtained through a breeding program.

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T.E. Morelock, J.A. Kirkpatrick, D.R. Motes, J.C. Correll, and F.J. Daniello

The current national trends in nutrition have resulted in a very high interest in the benefits of proper diet. It is very apparent that adding foods high in antioxidants to the human diet can have drastic affects on human health by reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, as well as age-related degenerative diseases. It is well-known and well-documented that spinach is one of the very best vegetables in antioxidant potential. It is high in beta-carotene (provitamin A) and is also very high in lutein (a carotenoid that is a strong antioxidant but with no vitamin A activity). Lutein has also been documented to have the potential to significantly reduce macular degeneration in humans when added to the diet on a regular basis. With these health benefits in mind the Univ. of Arkansas is releasing the spinach breeding line that has been tested as 88-310. It is a slow-growing semi-savoy that exhibits excellent color and has a moderate level of white rust resistance. It has excellent plant type, producing a very attractive compact rosette plant that is very desirable for root cut whole plants or for various types of clipped spinach. It is best-suited to both fall and overwinter production in Arkansas and for winter production in the Texas wintergarden. Seed for tests can be obtained by contacting T.E. Morelock, Dept. of Horticulture, Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

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J.A. Kirkpatrick, T.E. Morelock, L.R. Howard, and F.J. Dainello

Fresh-market spinach production has risen in the United States in the past few years as well as total value of the crop. Increased crop value may be attributed to more “value added” spinach products being produced and marketed. Public awareness of nutrition is rising due to more information being distributed concerning cancer prevention, antioxidants, and neutraceuticals. Spinach is high in the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein, a known antioxidant for the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is also high in vitamins A, C, E, and folate, fiber, and the mineral iron. In this respect, spinach producers have an advantage over growers of salad vegetables such as lettuce. While this is an advantage, more innovative “value added” methods of marketing this product to the consumer are needed. A dark-green, semi-savoy spinach type developed at the Univ. of Arkansas was studied to determine shelf-life and storage capabilities of root cut plants in transparent clamshell containers. Plants were held at temperatures ranging from 1 to 6 °C. Leaf turgidity and visual characteristics were rated on a 1 to 5 scale. Acceptable characteristics and shelf-life of spinach stored in clamshell containers were seen up to 14 to 21 days when plants were stored at or near 1 °C. These results indicate that spinach packaged in transparent clamshell containers will maintain an acceptable shelf-life and could be beneficial to fresh market spinach producers.