What is coleslaw?

Coleslaw is a salad made with raw sliced or shredded cabbage and a dressing such as a vinaigrette or mayonnaise. The term ‘coleslaw’ actually comes from the Dutch phrase ‘koolsla’, meaning ‘cabbage salad’.


You can buy ready-made coleslaw or make your own. Build on the cabbage base by adding onions, carrots, celery or apple, and make the dressing more flavourful with mustard or spices to create variety and different tastes, depending on what you are serving it with.

Coleslaw is often eaten alongside burgers, barbecue foods such as ribs or chicken, in sandwiches or with fish.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our delicious healthy coleslaw recipes.

Healthy coleslaw

Nutritional benefits of coleslaw

There are lots of different types of coleslaw available from supermarkets and health food shops. This breakdown is based on a standard shop-bought coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, onions and mayonnaise.

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A 100g serving (about 2 heaped tbsp) contains approximately:

  • 173 calories
  • 0.8g protein
  • 1.2g fibre
  • 16.3g fat
  • 296mg sodium
  • 153ug vitamin A
  • 4mg vitamin E
  • 156mg potassium
  • 36mg calcium
  • 21mg phosphorus

Coleslaw generally has a high fat content due to the mayonnaise dressing, but this is mainly unsaturated fats and you can buy lighter versions. The lighter versions will also be lower in calories.

A 100g serving of coleslaw provides about a quarter of your recommended daily vitamin A thanks to the cabbage and carrot content and the total recommended daily allowance of vitamin E from the plant oils found in mayonnaise.

When buying coleslaw, check the ingredients and make sure it doesn’t contain too much salt. It's advised that adults should consume no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) a day. Some shop-bought coleslaws contain up to a quarter of the recommended daily allowance in just 2 tbsp (100g).

Sweet potato falafel

How to include coleslaw as part of a healthy diet

Coleslaw is designed to be an accompaniment, so having a few tablespoons alongside a main such as grilled fish, meat or other salad ingredients means that it can easily be part of a healthy diet.

You can also make your own coleslaw, which can often be a healthier alternative to shop-bought (as long as you go easy on the mayonnaise). Alternatively, you can swap the mayonnaise for natural yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche, which will provide the creaminess for fewer calories.

You can then try combining your own mix of thinly sliced or grated cabbage, onions, carrots, apple or celery, adding different herbs and spices (such as mustard, fennel seeds or turmeric) for extra flavour and nutritional goodness.

Coleslaw recipes

Classic coleslaw

Coleslaw with tahini dressing

Sweet potato falafels with coleslaw

Lemony chicken skewers, herbed potatoes & apple coleslaw

No-cook Asian prawn coleslaw

Winter slaw with warm celery seed dressing

This article was published on 17 May 2021.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.


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