Is Coleslaw Good for You? Health Benefits and Health Risks

The humble coleslaw, a crunchy, tangy staple found in many picnics, barbecues, and fast food joints, sparks a polarizing debate in the realm of nutrition.

Is this slaw, primarily composed of shredded cabbage, a variety of other vegetables, and often enveloped in a creamy dressing, truly good for you? Or, does it masquerade as a healthy side dish, only to pack a surreptitious punch of hidden fats and sugars?

Many of us would be quick to lump coleslaw into the “salad” category, alongside its leafy, generally nutritious brethren. But here’s where the skepticism sets in: is all that glitters truly green? One cannot deny the health benefits associated with raw cabbage and carrots, teeming with vitamins and fiber.

However, those benefits risk being eclipsed by the caloric density and high fat content often present in the traditional coleslaw dressing.

This conundrum catapults us into a fascinating exploration, and possibly, a redefinition of what we perceive as healthy eating.

Is coleslaw a friend or foe on our quest for wellness? Are we undermining our health goals every time we reach for that colorful side dish, or is there more to the coleslaw story? Buckle up as we delve into the nuances of this beloved, yet controversial salad, dissecting its health benefits and potential risks.

What is Coleslaw?

Is Coleslaw Good for You

Coleslaw, affectionately known to many simply as ‘slaw’, is a salad that’s made primarily of finely shredded raw cabbage, which is typically combined with a variety of other thinly sliced vegetables and dressed with a mixture that often includes mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar.

Other ingredients may include shredded carrots, onions, and bell peppers, while the dressing can also feature mustard, buttermilk, or sour cream. Variations of the recipe can be found around the globe, with different regions adding their unique spins and flavors to the mix.

The name “coleslaw” originated from the Dutch term “koolsla”, where “kool” means cabbage and “sla” is short for “salade”. Thus, coleslaw simply means “cabbage salad”. The dish was introduced to the United States by Dutch immigrants in the 18th century and quickly became a staple in American cuisine.

Preparation methods for coleslaw vary. Some prefer to allow the mixed salad to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the flavors meld, while others enjoy it immediately after preparation. While it’s traditionally served raw, some recipes may call for briefly sautéing the cabbage or other vegetables to bring out different flavors.

In the market, coleslaw can be found in various forms. Freshly made coleslaw is available in many deli sections, and pre-packaged versions are also widely sold in the refrigerated produce section of grocery stores. There are even coleslaw mixes that consist of shredded vegetables without dressing, allowing you to add your own.

Despite its simplicity, coleslaw has evolved over the years and is now a versatile dish, lending itself to numerous adaptations and variations. From the classic creamy version to vinegar-based slaws, and from sweet to spicy iterations, this simple cabbage salad has come a long way from its Dutch origins, confirming that there is a ‘slaw for everyone.


The ingredients for a traditional coleslaw may vary slightly depending on regional preferences and personal taste, but here is a basic list:

  • Cabbage: This is the primary ingredient in coleslaw. Green cabbage is most commonly used, but you can also use red cabbage or a combination of both.
  • Carrots: These are often shredded and mixed with the cabbage for added color, texture, and flavor.
  • Onion: Some people add finely chopped or shredded onion for an extra bite.
  • Mayonnaise: This is a common base for the dressing. It gives coleslaw its creamy texture.
  • Vinegar: This is used to add a bit of tanginess to the dressing. Apple cider vinegar is commonly used, but white vinegar can also work.
  • Sugar: This is often added to the dressing to balance out the acidity of the vinegar. The amount can be adjusted based on personal preference.
  • Salt and Pepper: These are added for seasoning, and the amount can be adjusted to taste.
  • Optional Add-ins: There are many potential add-ins that can be used to customize your coleslaw. These can include other vegetables (like bell peppers or radishes), herbs (like parsley or cilantro), or even fruits (like apples or pineapple). Some people also like to add mustard or celery seeds to their dressing.

Please note that these are the ingredients for a traditional, creamy-style coleslaw. There are many different versions of coleslaw around the world, and the ingredients can vary widely depending on the specific recipe.

Nutrition Information

Coleslaw can be a healthy addition to your meal, but its nutritional value largely depends on the ingredients used and the type of dressing.

Traditional coleslaw is made of shredded cabbage, carrots, and other vegetables, tossed in a dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and various spices. Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, which means it’s low in calories and high in nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Carrots are also low in calories and provide additional nutrients like vitamin A and potassium.

The dressing, however, can significantly impact the nutrition of coleslaw. Mayonnaise-based dressings are typically high in calories and fat. A single serving of traditional coleslaw can contain around 250 calories, with most of these calories coming from the fat content in the mayonnaise.

Consider these nutritional facts for a typical serving of coleslaw (about 1 cup):

  • Calories: 250
  • Fat: 20g
  • Carbohydrates: 15g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Protein: 1g

If you’re looking to improve the nutritional value of your coleslaw, you can choose a lighter dressing made with yogurt, vinegar, and mustard, which is lower in calories and fat. Making this swap can reduce the calorie count of your coleslaw to around 100 calories per serving, while still providing the health benefits of the vegetables.

Furthermore, adding a variety of colorful vegetables to your coleslaw can increase its vitamin and mineral content. Red cabbage, bell peppers, and broccoli are all excellent choices to consider, as they provide additional vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.

When enjoying coleslaw, be mindful of portion sizes and the type of dressing used. Opting for a lighter dressing and including more vegetables will not only help lower the calorie count but also increase the overall nutritional value of your meal.

Health Benefits

Vitamin C

Coleslaw can be a good source of Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system and plays a role in the production of collagen, which contributes to healthy skin and connective tissues. Including coleslaw in your diet can help boost your Vitamin C intake, supporting overall health and well-being.


Coleslaw often contains vegetables rich in antioxidants, such as cabbage, carrots, and red onions. Antioxidants help protect your body from free radicals, which contribute to cell damage and may play a role in cancer development. This tasty side dish includes cancer-fighting compounds like anthocyanins, flavonoids, and polyphenols, all of which can help reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cabbage, the main ingredient in coleslaw, belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family, known for their potential health benefits. Research suggests that these vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane, which may help protect against cancer and support overall health. Enjoying a serving of coleslaw can be a delicious way to incorporate these nutritious vegetables into your diet.


Coleslaw is a fiber-rich food that can support your digestive system. A diet high in fiber can help prevent constipation, maintain normal bowel movements, and alleviate diarrhea. Coleslaw contains both insoluble and soluble fibers, offering you a balanced source of this essential nutrient.

Other Nutrients

In addition to Vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber, coleslaw provides an array of other essential nutrients. Some of these nutrients include potassium, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, folate, manganese, Vitamin B6, and iron.

  • Potassium supports heart health and proper muscle function.
  • Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone health, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin A (found in coleslaw’s carrots as beta-carotene) promotes good vision and overall eye health.

By incorporating coleslaw into your meals, you are not only enjoying a tasty side dish but also nourishing your body with essential vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health.

Pros and Cons

Pros of Eating Coleslaw:

  • Nutrient-Rich: Coleslaw is primarily made from cabbage, a low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and several other essential nutrients.
  • Versatile: Coleslaw can be tailored to suit various dietary preferences and restrictions. You can substitute the high-fat dressing with healthier alternatives like Greek yogurt or vinegar-based dressings, add in other vegetables, or even include some fruits for added flavor and nutrients.
  • Increases Veggie Intake: Serving coleslaw as a side dish is a good way to increase your daily intake of vegetables.
  • Fiber Content: Coleslaw’s high fiber content can aid in digestion and contribute to feelings of fullness, which can assist with weight management.

Cons of Eating Coleslaw:

  • High in Fat and Calories: Traditional coleslaw recipes often use mayonnaise-based dressings, which can be high in fat and calories. These recipes might not be suitable for those looking to reduce their calorie or fat intake.
  • Potential Digestive Issues: Consuming cabbage, the main ingredient in coleslaw, may cause flatulence or digestive discomfort in some individuals.
  • Varied Nutritional Content: The nutritional content of coleslaw can vary widely depending on how it’s prepared. Some versions may be loaded with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium, which can lead to health issues if consumed in large quantities over time.
  • Excessive intake: Because it can be high in fat and calories, depending on the recipe, it may be necessary to watch portion sizes when eating coleslaw. Overeating any food, even if it’s vegetable-based, can contribute to weight gain and related health concerns.

Related Studies

Indeed, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage are loaded with a variety of antioxidants that are known to lessen chronic inflammation.

Interestingly, a study conducted in 2014 indicated that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables could potentially lower specific inflammatory markers in the blood.

Furthermore, a prior research survey involving over a thousand women revealed a correlation between the consumption of cruciferous vegetables and inflammation levels. The women who consumed the largest quantities of these vegetables displayed significantly reduced inflammation levels compared to those who consumed the smallest quantities.

Research indicates that consuming foods high in vitamin C could lower the risk of specific cancers. A comprehensive 2014 study revealed a 7% decrease in the risk of lung cancer for each daily increase of 100 milligrams in vitamin C intake. 

Remarkably, one cup of chopped red cabbage, equivalent to 89 grams, provides 56% of the recommended daily vitamin C intake, an amount similar to a small orange. In conclusion, vitamin C is critical for many bodily functions and serves as a powerful antioxidant. Red cabbage is an excellent source of this nutrient, offering about 56% of the daily value per cup.

What Do Health Experts Say

When it comes to coleslaw, health experts often point out that its nutritional value depends on the specific ingredients and preparation methods used.

Generally, coleslaw is made with a mix of shredded cabbage, carrots, and other vegetables, which are all packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These ingredients are healthy and can be part of a balanced, nutritious diet.

However, traditional coleslaw often contains mayonnaise and added sugars that can make it a less healthy option. Mayonnaise is high in fats and calories, while added sugars contribute to weight gain and other health issues. You should be mindful of the dressing used in coleslaw, as this can greatly impact its nutritional profile.

To make a healthier coleslaw, consider using the following tips:

  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dressings: Opt for yogurt-based dressings or vinaigrettes instead of mayonnaise to reduce calories and fat content.
  • Limit added sugars: Cut back on the use of sugar, or substitute it with a natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup.
  • Add more vegetables: Incorporate a variety of colored veggies, such as bell peppers, radishes, and kale, for added nutrients and antioxidants.

Remember, a well-balanced coleslaw with a focus on fresh vegetables and healthier dressing alternatives can be a beneficial addition to your diet. Just be mindful of the ingredients and preparation methods to ensure you’re reaping the health benefits of this popular side dish.

Who Should Avoid It?

If you have high cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol, it’s essential to pay close attention to your diet. Consuming coleslaw, particularly the store-bought or restaurant-served versions, might not be the best choice for you. These versions often contain high amounts of mayonnaise, which not only increases the calorie count but may also negatively impact your cholesterol levels.

To better manage your LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, consider making coleslaw at home using healthier ingredients. Opt for a vinegar-based dressing instead of mayonnaise or choose low-fat mayonnaise alternatives. Adding ingredients rich in phytosterols, such as seeds and nuts, can also aid in reducing LDL cholesterol levels.

In summary, if you have high cholesterol levels, it would be best to avoid coleslaw that contains high amounts of mayonnaise. Instead, choose healthier versions or make your own at home with alternative ingredients that can help support your heart health and cholesterol management goals.

Natural Alternatives

If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to traditional coleslaw, consider incorporating other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. These vegetables not only add a variety of flavors and textures to your dish but also come with numerous health benefits.

Swapping out cabbage for broccoli in your coleslaw adds extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your meal. Broccoli is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as several B vitamins. It is also a great source of fiber, which aids digestion and helps maintain healthy weight levels.

Another nutritious option is incorporating Brussels sprouts into your coleslaw mix. Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, and potassium. Like all cruciferous vegetables, they also contain glucosinolates, compounds that may play a role in cancer prevention.

Cauliflower can also serve as a versatile ingredient in coleslaw, offering a unique texture and milder flavor. Whether grated or finely chopped, cauliflower provides an excellent base for salads, as well as being rich in essential nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, and antioxidants.

Try a simple and flavorful combination:

  • 2 cups finely chopped or grated cauliflower
  • 1 cup shredded or julienned carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

For the dressing, mix the following ingredients in a separate bowl:

  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey or agave
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the vegetables with the dressing, and voilà! A delicious, nutritious alternative to traditional coleslaw. By incorporating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower into your salad, you can enjoy a healthier yet still satisfying side dish.


Coleslaw can be a nutritious addition to your diet when prepared with the right ingredients. Traditional coleslaw recipes often include mayonnaise, which can be high in unhealthy fats and calories.

However, you can easily substitute mayonnaise with healthier options such as Greek yogurt or vinaigrettes. By using a variety of vegetables, like cabbage, carrots, and bell peppers, you can ensure your coleslaw is packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

In addition to improving the nutritional content, try to incorporate more fresh fruits or vegetables into your coleslaw. Some people enjoy adding shredded apples or dried cranberries, while others prefer to include a mix of additional green vegetables such as spinach or kale. This not only boosts the overall nutrient value but also adds a burst of flavor and texture.

Remember to pay attention to portion sizes when consuming coleslaw. While it can provide several health benefits, moderation is key. Keep in mind that eating large amounts of even healthy foods can contribute to weight gain and an imbalance in nutrient intake.

In summary, coleslaw can be a healthy and delicious option if you focus on using nutrient-dense ingredients and practicing portion control. By making these simple modifications, you can enjoy the benefits of this classic side dish without sacrificing your overall health goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is KFC coleslaw healthy?

KFC coleslaw can be considered a moderately healthy side dish, as it contains a mix of cabbage, carrots, and onions. However, you should be aware that it also has added sugar and mayonnaise, which contributes to its calorie and fat content. To make it healthier, you can try recreating the recipe at home and reducing the sugar and mayonnaise content.

Can coleslaw with mayo be nutritious?

Coleslaw with mayonnaise can still be nutritious, as cabbage and other vegetables in the dish are rich in nutrients. However, using a large amount of mayonnaise can lead to higher calorie and fat content. You can opt for healthier alternatives, such as Greek yogurt or low-fat mayonnaise, to maintain the creaminess while reducing calories and fat.

What are some healthy coleslaw recipes?

Healthy coleslaw recipes often feature a mix of vegetables like cabbage, carrots, and red bell peppers, which provide a variety of nutrients. Instead of mayonnaise, try vinaigrette-based dressings made from ingredients like apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Additionally, using herbs and spices to enhance the flavor can minimize the need for added sugar or salt.

How healthy is store-bought coleslaw?

Store-bought coleslaw can vary in nutritional value depending on the ingredients and the dressing used. Some may be high in calories, sugar, and fat because of mayonnaise or added sweeteners. Always check the nutrition label and ingredient list before purchasing store-bought coleslaw to ensure you’re making a healthier choice.

What makes a coleslaw recipe vinegar-based?

A vinegar-based coleslaw recipe is one that uses vinegar as the main component of its dressing rather than mayonnaise. This type of coleslaw is typically lighter and tangier in taste. Besides vinegar, the dressing might include olive oil, lemon juice, or mustard, as well as various herbs and spices for added flavor.

Are there benefits to consuming creamy coleslaw?

Creamy coleslaw, made with mayonnaise or other creamy dressings, can still provide benefits due to the nutritious vegetables it contains, such as fiber and vitamins from the cabbage and carrots. However, to maximize these benefits, it’s essential to choose healthier alternatives such as low-fat mayonnaise or Greek yogurt and keep the dressing portion moderate to limit calorie and fat intake.


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  • Marixie Manarang, MT, undergrad MD

    Marixie Manarang is licensed Medical Laboratory Scientist and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). For one year, she completed her internship training in a government hospital, primarily catering to retired veterans and their dependents. Through her preceptorships in medical school, she gained exposure to patients from various medical departments. Marixie’s passion for writing stems from her excellent medical background, being a mother, and a strong desire to assist the elderly and others in need. Education: Our Lady of Fatima University Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2012-2015), Angeles University Foundation Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2009-2011), Angeles University Foundation Bachelors, Medical Technology (2004-2009)






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