By Dr. Jim Ferguson

We have finally moved into our new downsized home built on the back of our small farm property. We call our new home, New House, as opposed to the Big House where we lived for thirty-seven years and raised our girls. Our daughters are now grown and have families of their own. We needed less and one daughter’s growing family needed more. So, we swapped, and now I get to see my grandkids almost everyday and they get to grow up on twenty-one acres in the heart of Knoxville.

I’ve traveled all my life, but now my focus is closer to home. They say home is where your heart is, and I believe that’s true. During my traveling years I always said, “It’s good to go, but it’s better to come home.” Now, after more than a dozen trips throughout Europe, a half dozen trips to various countries in Central America, visits to multiple Caribbean islands, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and the Middle East, I’ve come to agree with Dorothy, “There’s no place like home.”

I’ve learned that moving leads you to your past. Boxing up one’s memorabilia inevitably causes you to consider old photo albums. And moving has caused us to reconsider the pictures on our walls. We’ve had to be more selective because we now have fewer walls.

Recently, I came upon a picture album of the only “guy trip” I ever made. A friend of mine organized a self guided tour of castles in Slovakia, the Czech republic, Poland and Hungary shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We met in Vienna, rented a van and the five of us launched ourselves over the Iron Curtain and into a great adventure. Travel broadens the mind, and our Western opinions were challenged as we learned the historical perspectives of our Eastern European traveling companion.

It’s been more than twenty-five years since I stood atop Spissky Castle in Slovakia, perched seven hundred feet above farmlands of green wheat juxtaposing yellow fields of rapeseed. Like Wordsworth, who stumbled upon a field of golden daffodils, I’ve carried those memories of yellow and green fields in my mind all these years, but they were recently awakened from a photograph. I wish I could convey the image, but I do not have the skills of the poet who immortalized his daffodils by writing:


“I gazed – and gazed – but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”


Serendipitously, I recently read that the vegetable oil harvested from those beautiful yellow rapeseed fields was renamed by the Canadian oil industry in 1978. Evidently, canola oil was considered more politically correct and more marketable than rapeseed oil.

Have you ever been confused by the various claims regarding vegetable oils? And so-called experts extole this diet or that, and purport to tell you which fat is best and how much fat is healthy. When I was chief resident in internal medicine we liked to define an expert as someone fifty miles from home with a slide presentation – these days you can substitute a powerpoint program or perhaps an opinion column! While I don’t claim to be an expert, here are my observations.

A healthy diet consists of a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins usually come from animal flesh (meat), but also from eggs, dairy products, tofu (a soybean product), nuts like almonds and peanuts, and seed products like quinoa, as well certain legumes like lentils, peas and beans. Carbohydrates are complex sugars and include potatoes, rice and bread. Fats (oils) are found in animal flesh, nuts, olives, corn, flaxseed and yes, rapeseed.

For years experts have recommended that we limit fats and replace the missing calories with additional carbohydrates. This proved disastrous, as many now consider the obesity epidemic, in part due, to excessive dietary carbohydrates (sugars). Eliminating fats is unhealthy and makes it difficult to consume adequate calories because fats possess greater energy than protein or carbohydrates. And logically, the dietary recommendations for a seventy year old man with coronary heart disease is different than for a growing teenager. This is why I bristle at the blanket “herd” recommendations of experts.

Fats or oils are often grouped as saturated or unsaturated. This has to do with the amount of hydrogen in the fat molecule. It is thought that saturated fats (those with more hydrogen) are less healthy than unsaturated fats. Animal fats are largely saturated and vegetable fats are largely unsaturated (exceptions are coconut and palm oils).

A good guide is to realize saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and those that are liquid are unsaturated. Examples of polyunsaturated vegetable fats are corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils. And even less saturated are the monounsaturated oils of olives, peanuts, sesame and canola seeds.

But it gets even more complicated. Most unsaturated fats in nature occur in a cis configuration rather than the trans configuration. This designation comes from organic chemistry and refers to isomers of molecules. Imagine looking at your hand in a mirror. The mirror image is but a reflection of the real thing. It turns out that converting unsaturated oils to the trans configuration confers desirable properties such as being solid at room temperature. Examples are margarine or Crisco made into a saturated fat in the hydrogenation process. And like saturated fats, experts note that consumption of a diet high in trans fats has been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

This week I learned that I am a “cis-male.” This is not organic chemistry folks, but PC run amok. Apparently, due to the hoopla of the “trans” gender identity issue, trans-males identify themselves as something other than their birth sex. The terms cis and trans derive from Latin and respectively mean the same side of or across a longitudinal axis. Thankfully, like 99.7% of other Americans I don’t straddle that fence.

Well, there you have it folks. However, I suspect this latter tidbit is something most would just as soon delete from memory or the “inward eye.”