Jeremy Laurance: Eight Big Macs a day won't keep the doctor away

Medical Life

After 25,000 Big Macs, Don Gorske has been hailed for a record-beating feat. The prison security guard's obsession with the burger started in May 1972 when he walked into his local McDonalds in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and bought three of the double beef patties with sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, to celebrate the purchase of a new car.

He liked them so much he went back twice the same day and has kept going back daily ever since, averaging 8.5 Big Macs per day. "I plan on eating Big Macs until I die," the 57-year-old said.

Nutritionists frown on this kind of thing. It's not what's in the burger that matters – though 725kg of fat, equivalent to the weight of a large polar bear, should clog a fair few arteries – but what is not in it. As one Florida dietitian said, the worry should be over "all the good stuff" he's missing out on, such as fruit and vegetables (the lettuce leaf swathed in sauce hardly counts).

Yet is Don Gorske so unusual? A survey in 2009 found the average UK family has a repertoire of just four dishes cooked in rotation – the most popular being spaghetti bolognese. It is not hard to understand why – bolognese is cheap, easy to make, tasty, keeps in the fridge and improves on re-heating. Of how many dishes can that be said?

But it does not make for a varied diet. A former colleague – a highly regarded science journalist and academic – once told me he ate nothing but fish fingers and frozen peas. Every day. "Because I like it," he said. He wasn't interested in food, still less in cooking and this was a way of getting calories inside him with minimal hassle.

If you stray beyond the western world, Don Gorske's "feat" appears still less unusual. On a trekking holiday in the Himalayas last autumn, our guide, a 29-year-old Nepali called Hemraz, ate Dhal Bhat, the country's staple dish of rice and lentils, for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. We saw nothing else pass his lips for two weeks, apart from a couple of chocolate bars. A previous client had bought him a T-shirt with the slogan, "Fuelled by Dhal Bhat".

Most people in most parts of the world eat a monotonous diet because that is what's available. Don Gorske is unusual only in that, presented with choice, he has chosen not to exercise it. There will be millions like him, whose health will suffer from what they are missing.

On Saturday I bought a pack of feed for our pet rabbit – uniform brown pellets containing all the vitamins and minerals to suit a bunny's needs. "Prevents selective feeding," the label said. Don Gorske should try it.

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