Sitting across from a popular food vlogger might sound intimidating, but while HealthNut Nutrition's Nikole Goncalves is known for her super-healthy recipes, she has a surprisingly relaxed attitude when it comes to food.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Nikole at Buffer Festival, an annual showcase of Youtube video premieres where she was a featured creator. Nikole sat down to chat about how she got her start, her favourite recipes, and the best places to grab a bite.

Rose Ferrao

Spoon: I want to start off by asking how this all started for you. When did you get the inspiration to share HealthNut Nutrition with the world?

NG: I went to school for marketing, oddly enough, and I took a couple nutrition classes. That's what really sparked my love for food and nutrition. Growing up, I always liked eating healthy—not so much that I was interested in it, I just thought, "I like brown bread over white bread, and I like this peanut butter over this sugary peanut butter." It wasn't too much of a thought process of, "Oh, I want to be a nutritionist."

When I was taking nutrition courses at George Brown College, that really sparked my interest for it. I remember coming home and telling my boyfriend, "I think I found my passion! I want to be a holistic nutritionist." It was this whole idea. It kind of turned into, "Now I'm absorbing all of this information about health and fitness, what do I do with it all?" I can only bug my friends and family so much, so I needed an outlet for that.

During that time, I was also planning a year-long trip with my boyfriend out to Australia. We were backpacking and working for— it ended up being almost two years. I was watching a lot of Youtube and I had a lot of time to get creative in the kitchen. We were on-the-go all the time, I was doing most of the cooking, and it was sometimes with limited ingredients since we were backpacking and didn't want to carry a whole kitchen with us.

After watching Youtube for a year straight, I thought, "I could do this. How hard could it be?" I remember I started with fitness videos, and I was just starting to film on my iPhone and I was editing with like, an iMovie app on my iPad. It was really low-budget. I probably had two followers: my mom, and my boyfriend Matt.

I did the fitness videos, then I wanted to get into food. I remember my first recipe was "How to Make the Best Oatmeal Ever" and it was because I used to not like oatmeal and I found a way to like oatmeal because it was a great travel breakfast food. By no means were they well-filmed or anything, but I was passionate about it and I think that's what came through.

Spoon: You define yourself as a flexitarian. A lot of people our age feel like they have to be strictly vegan or vegetarian. Can you explain a bit about your lifestyle and how it differs from those rigid categories?

NG: It's really interesting, the food world on Youtube right now. It's hard if you're not vegan, because it's a very trending thing. I support it—I think it's great, I have friends who are vegan, and I support them 100%. For me, right now, it doesn't fit.

The whole flexitarian thing is actually a new term. A few people called me it, and I was like, "That must be what it is!" I'm trying to get people to not be so strict and serious about their eating habits. My goal is to help people create a healthy relationship with food, not a negative restrictive one. I never talk about calories or fat, I don't talk about totally eliminating carbs. It's all about eating when you're hungry and making sure the majority of the foods you eat are whole foods and not packaged things.

One week I might eat vegan, another week I might have some fish. It changes every week, every day, every hour. Once you say you're eating a certain way, someone could eat McDonald's every day and say, "Oh! You ate that cookie, it has butter in it." They're like the food police. I hate that food has become like, this new religion. Let's not get so crazy. If you're vegan, great—spread the message by showing people how delicious the food is, not by criticizing them for what they're eating.

I do think people need to know more about what they're eating and find out, "Where did it come from? What are the ingredients?" If you're going to eat meat, try to eat local meat, free-range, organic. That doesn't fit with everyone's budget, and sometimes I'm craving ramen, I'm gonna go eat ramen. I'm sure the pork inside isn't organic, but sometimes you just have to be relaxed about it. I'm really trying to promote a balanced, healthy relationship with your food.

Spoon: That's awesome! Especially when body image is such a huge thing with young girls, I think the "listen to your body" mentality is important.

NG: Yup! Your body knows what it wants, so just listen to it. That's the advice I would give.

beer, pizza, hamburger, coffee
Rose Ferrao

Spoon: You're having breakfast, lunch, and dinner on your dream food day. What would those meals look like?

NG: I'm a huge breakfast lover. I love sweet breakfast, savoury breakfast—it doesn't matter. We'll start of with sweets, because that's probably what I would do on my ideal day. Probably pancakes. I'm gonna be biased: I absolutely love my coconut flour pancakes because they taste like traditional, white, fluffy pancakes but they're healthy. Actually, I have another one that's my fluffy brown rice pancakes and they're really good. I eat them all the time with peanut butter and banana on top, [and] maple syrup because obviously I'm Canadian.

I'm gonna go bad for lunch. I've been really into ramen lately, and my favourite place is on College West called Ryoji. I get the spicy miso, it's delicious. I'm going to hopefully have to create my own ramen, because I'm that addicted to it.

For snacks and stuff in between, I honestly like eating peanut butter. Anything with peanut butter. And guacamole, salsa and chips. Those would be my ideal snacks.

For dinner, it's a restaurant my boyfriend and I have been going to forever. It's called Terroni, and I like the one on Adelaide. It's a rustic, Italian place in an old jail building and we usually get a nice thin-crust pizza with gorgonzola cheese and spicy sausage. They use better ingredients so I don't feel so bad about it. I'm a huge seafood lover, so I would get the calamari in there and a nice glass of red wine. And I had my dessert for breakfast, so I don't even need that!

coffee, pizza, tea, cake
Rose Ferrao

Thank you so much to Nikole for chatting with us, and make sure to check out her blog, Youtube channel, or Instagram for more of her bubbly personality and incredible recipes.