Warmer weather means more opportunities to fire up the grill and dine outdoors. And, whether you’re serving up sliders, steaks or mouthwatering barbecue, one side dish is sure to find its way onto your menu: cool crunchy coleslaw.

Coleslaw (from the Dutch “koolsla,” or cabbage salad) usually consists of shredded or chopped cabbage and carrots tossed with dressing. In and around North Carolina, vinegar-based dressings — which combine wonderfully with the region’s famous pulled pork — are popular. In other areas, coleslaw is usually finished with a sweet, mayonnaise-based dressing.

“Like other salads, coleslaw’s main focus is on veggies, so it can be a good way to add color to a meal,” said Jason Gray, a dietitian at CoreLife Novant Health - Kernersville Gateway.

“But the toppings we put on those vegetables can make a big difference in nutrition. For example, combining a sweet-and-creamy dressing with most barbecued meats can add up to a lot of saturated fats in one meal.”

Fortunately, with smart substitutions and clever recipes, it is possible to make a healthier coleslaw that still delivers all the tangy texture we love. To kick off summer barbecue season, Gray offered some clever ideas and two delicious recipes for more nutritious slaw.

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Adding color and crunch

Whether you buy it bagged (Gray likes Marketside Tri-Color Cole Slaw) or choose to shred it yourself, cabbage, the primary ingredient in coleslaw, delivers a handful of essential nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin C, which boosts your immune system.
  • Vitamin K, essential for bone health and blood clotting.
  • Vitamin B6, vital for metabolism and brain development.
  • Potassium, which promotes heart health and helps regulate blood pressure.

Cabbage also contains phytochemicals — plant nutrients that can help defend your body against cancer — and dietary fiber that can promote fullness and keep the digestive system healthy.

When choosing vegetables for coleslaw, it’s helpful to remember that color does make a difference.

“Red cabbage tastes the same as green, but it offers more nutrients,” Gray said. “Grated carrots also add color and provide vitamin A to help promote healthy eyes and skin.”

Other tasty, nutrition-boosting add-ins include unsalted chopped nuts — which boost texture and provide healthy fats — or dried fruit, like raisins or cranberries. (Cue the eyerolling from purists in the Carolinas.)

Addressing the dressing

“As a dietitian, I’m not a big fan of excluding foods,” Gray said. “But I do caution patients to look for a food’s weakness when pairing it with similar foods.”

For example, the weakness in mayo-based coleslaw dressing is its high level of saturated fat, associated with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. And pairing that mayo with other foods containing saturated fat — like burgers and barbecue — magnifies that weakness.

“So, finding a mayo alternative that offers creaminess without unhealthy fats is the key to healthier coleslaw,” he said.

Gray’s go-to mayo replacement is plain Greek yogurt, which has a similar texture and coats the coleslaw ingredients to perfection. Plus, Greek yogurt is available in low- and non-fat varieties, contains little sodium or sugar and provides a healthy dose of protein.

“Some brands of Greek yogurt also contain as much as three grams of dietary fiber per serving, which is a good way to add to your daily intake,” he said. “So it makes a good upgrade, reducing the salt and fat you’d want to watch out for while adding bonus nutrients.”

A note about food safety: Neither creamy nor vinegar-based coleslaw should be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

Healthy coleslaw with creamy dressing


  • 3 cups green cabbage, finely shredded
  • 3 cups purple cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 cup carrots, finely shredded
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, chives, etc.)
  • 3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt (or full fat)
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar, more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp honey (to taste)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed


Combine green cabbage, purple cabbage, carrots and herbs in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix Greek yogurt, white vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper and celery seed. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Pour the dressing over the coleslaw and toss to combine. Serve immediately or, for a softer salad, let sit for 30-60 minutes in the fridge.

Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: 62 calories; 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 438 milligrams sodium; 12 grams carbohydrates (3 grams dietary fiber, 8 grams sugars); 5 grams protein.

Adapted from: slenderkitchen.com/recipe/the-best-coleslaw-with-greek-yogurt

Healthy coleslaw with sugar-free vinegar dressing


  • 2 cups green cabbage sliced thinly
  • 2 cups red cabbage sliced thinly
  • 2 cups grated carrots (4-5 large carrots)
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup red onion chopped or sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 jalapeno seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts lightly toasted (optional)


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Place green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot in a bowl. Stir in the onion, parsley, jalapeno, and celery seed. Give it a gentle toss to make sure that all the vegetables are equally distributed in the bowl.

In a jar, combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Close the jar and shake until blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Drizzle the dressing over the coleslaw and toss to combine. Sprinkle it with walnuts and serve.

Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: 174 calories; 14.8 grams fat (1.6 grams saturated fat); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 131 milligrams sodium; 9.2 grams carbohydrates (3.3 grams dietary fiber, 4.1 grams sugars); 3.8 grams protein.

Adapted from: https://foolproofliving.com/no-mayo-coleslaw/