Can a diabetic have coleslaw?

Quick Answer

Yes, diabetics can eat coleslaw in moderation as part of a healthy diabetic diet. Coleslaw can be a good low-carb vegetable choice that provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, coleslaw can also contain added sugars and carbohydrates from dressings, crackers, and other mix-ins. Diabetics should focus on plain, low-sugar coleslaw varieties and control portion sizes. Ask your doctor or dietitian about fitting coleslaw into your meal plan.

What Is Coleslaw?

Coleslaw is a salad made primarily of finely shredded raw cabbage and tossed with a salad dressing, commonly either vinaigrette or mayonnaise-based. Other vegetables like carrots, onions, bell peppers, and broccoli are also frequently added.

There are many variations of coleslaw across cultures. Some popular types include:

– Creamy coleslaw – Made with mayonnaise and often including carrots and onions. This is the most common preparation in the U.S.

– Vinegar-based coleslaw – Made with an oil and vinegar dressing.

– Asian coleslaw – Contains ginger, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sometimes ramen noodles or wontons.

– German coleslaw – Warm preparation with bacon.

– Greek coleslaw – Includes lemon juice and olive oil.

The cabbage in coleslaw provides fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins and glucosinolates that may have anti-cancer effects. Other coleslaw ingredients like carrots add vitamin A.

Can Diabetics Eat Coleslaw?

Yes, people with diabetes can eat coleslaw in moderation as part of an overall healthy diabetic diet.

Cabbage and other non-starchy vegetables in coleslaw provide nutrients without significantly impacting blood sugar levels. One cup of shredded raw cabbage contains only 5 grams of carbohydrate.

However, some prepared coleslaw varieties can be high in carbohydrates, calories, and added sugars depending on the ingredients and dressing used. Creamy coleslaws often get calories from mayonnaise-based dressings and added sugars from relishes, cranberries, etc. Croutons, crackers, noodles, and other mix-ins also increase the carb content.

So diabetics need to pay attention to nutrition labels and added ingredients when choosing store-bought coleslaw. Making coleslaw at home using less sugar and low-carb dressing alternatives can allow diabetics to better control what goes into it.

Tips for Diabetics Eating Coleslaw

Here are some tips for diabetics to keep coleslaw as part of a healthy meal plan:

– Stick to small portions – About 1/2 cup of coleslaw per meal is a good guideline. Measure portions to stay aware of carb counts.

– Choose plain, low-sugar varieties – Avoid coleslaws with extra dressings, fruits, sweeteners, crackers, noodles or other high-carb add-ins.

– Opt for oil & vinegar dressings – Vinaigrettes have less calories and carbs than creamy, mayo-based options.

– Watch out for sneaky sugars – Added honey, relishes, jams, etc act as extra sugars. Read labels carefully.

– Pair with protein and healthy fats – Eating coleslaw along with fish, chicken, eggs, avocado or nuts helps slow carb absorption and manage blood sugar.

– Ask about carb counting – Your doctor or dietitian can advise you on counting coleslaw carbs as part of your daily meal plan totals.

Sample Diabetic Coleslaw Recipe

Here is a diabetic-friendly coleslaw recipe:


– 4 cups shredded green cabbage
– 1 cup shredded carrots
– 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
– 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


1. Wash cabbage, carrots and pat dry. Shred cabbage and carrots into a large bowl. Add onion.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, celery seed, salt and pepper.

3. Drizzle dressing over vegetables and toss thoroughly to coat.

4. Refrigerate coleslaw for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow flavors to blend.

This easy oil and vinegar based coleslaw has no added sugars. The total carbohydrate count is 10g per 1 cup serving. Pair with grilled chicken or fish for a balanced diabetic-friendly meal.

Health Benefits of Cabbage for Diabetes

Beyond being a low-carb vegetable choice, cabbage offers some specific benefits for people with diabetes:

Fiber – One cup of raw cabbage provides over 2 grams of fiber. Fiber can help improve blood sugar control and gastrointestinal health.

Antioxidants – Cabbage contains antioxidant compounds like sulforaphane and indoles that may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress contributes to diabetic complications.

Heart health – The anti-inflammatory nutrients in cabbage may help lower cardiovascular disease risk for diabetics who are at higher risk.

Blood pressure – The potassium in cabbage acts as a vasodilator which can help lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to diabetes.

Cancer prevention – Studies show the sulfur compounds in cabbage may reduce the risk of certain cancers common in diabetics like colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Risks of Eating Too Much Coleslaw

While coleslaw can be included as part of a balanced diet for diabetics, eating too much may lead to the following risks:

Spiking blood sugar – Large portions or sugary varieties of coleslaw can make it hard to control carbohydrate intake and blood glucose levels.

Weight gain – Excess calories from high-fat dressings and starchy add-ins contribute to overweight and obesity, which exacerbate diabetes.

Thyroid effects – Raw cabbage contains goitrogens which may interfere with thyroid function if over-consumed. Those with thyroid issues should moderate intake.

Gas and bloating – Cabbage is high in FODMAPs and may cause intestinal issues like gas, cramping, and diarrhea in some people when eaten in large amounts.

Nutrient deficiencies – Eating coleslaw instead of more nutritious foods may lead to missing out on important minerals, proteins, healthy fats, etc. Variety is key.

Making Coleslaw Fitting for Diabetic Diets

Diabetics can take simple steps to turn regular coleslaw into a diabetes-friendly food:

– Use Greek yogurt or low-fat plain yogurt instead of mayo for a creamy dressing with less fat and calories.

– Add lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for tangy flavor instead of relying on sweet relishes or cranberries for sweetness.

– Flavor with onion, garlic, spices and herbs like dill, parsley or chives rather than sugar.

– Substitute cauliflower “rice” or shredded broccoli stem for some of the cabbage to lower the carb count.

– Top with chopped nuts like almonds or walnuts to add crunch and healthy fats that help control blood sugar.

– Squeeze fresh cabbage to remove excess moisture before dressing it to avoid a soggy, high-carb slaw.

– Chill coleslaw thoroughly before serving to let flavors blend and develop. The crunch and flavor improves.

With smart substitutions and additions, coleslaw can be a fresh, tasty, low-carb component of meals for people with diabetes.

How Coleslaw Fits Into a Diabetic Diet

Coleslaw can fit into a healthy type 2 diabetic diet in a few ways:

– As a veggie side dish – Enjoy 1/2 cup coleslaw paired with a lean protein like chicken breast, salmon or tofu.

– On top of salad greens – Add a scoop of coleslaw to liven up a bed of lettuce or spinach.

– As a sandwich topping – Pile coleslaw onto a whole grain sandwich for crunch.

– Wrapped in lettuce cups – For a low-carb lunch, use lettuce leaves as wraps filled with coleslaw.

– As a crunchy snack – Scoop up a small bowl of coleslaw to satisfy cravings for something cold and crisp.

– Stirred into quinoa or brown rice – Mix in shredded cabbage to reduce the carbs and calories of grains.

– As a bright breakfast topping – Add coleslaw to omelets, breakfast tacos or grain bowls.

The versatile crunch and flavor of coleslaw complements many diabetic-friendly meals.

Precautions for Diabetics Eating Coleslaw

Here are some important precautions for people with diabetes eating coleslaw:

– Check blood sugar before, during and after meals with coleslaw as it can impact levels differently for each person.

– Take any insulin or medication needed to manage blood sugar around times when eating coleslaw.

– Stick to consistent carb amounts at meals with coleslaw to understand its effects. Varying carb portions may lead to instability.

– Check for added sugars on ingredient lists and nutrition labels when purchasing premade coleslaw. Sweeteners quickly increase carbohydrate counts.

– Monitor portion sizes carefully when tracking carbohydrates. It’s easy to overeat chopped produce like coleslaw.

– Introduce coleslaw slowly and look out for any signs of digestive issues like gas or bloating when adding it to your diet.

– Choose raw, fresh coleslaw from refrigerated sections. Old, wilted or spoiled coleslaw can cause food poisoning.

Discuss enjoying coleslaw with your medical team to identify any special considerations given your individual health status.

Serving Size Guidance

The following serving sizes for coleslaw provide a good guideline for diabetics:

Type of Meal Serving Size
Side dish 1/2 cup
Topping on salad or grain bowl 1/4 cup
Sandwich topping Up to 2 tablespoons
Snack 1/3 cup
Stirred into grains or wraps Up to 1/4 cup

These serving sizes provide a moderate amount of non-starchy vegetables and limit carb counts from high-sugar dressings or mix-ins. Adjust amounts based on your individual nutrition needs and blood sugar effects.

Sample Meal Plans with Coleslaw

Here are two sample meal plans incorporating coleslaw for lunch and dinner:


– Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread (1 slice bread, 3 oz turkey breast) with 1 Tbsp coleslaw, lettuce, tomato
– Baby carrots – 1/2 cup
– Nonfat Greek yogurt – 1/2 cup
– Iced tea


– Baked chicken breast (3 oz)
– 1/2 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
– 1/2 cup coleslaw
– Whole wheat dinner roll (1 small) with 1 tsp butter
– Water

The coleslaw provides a vegetable serving and adds flavor, crunch and variety while keeping servings modest to balance carbohydrates at each meal.

Coleslaw Carb Counts

The carbohydrate content in coleslaw can vary greatly depending on the exact ingredients and portion size. Here are some estimates for carb counts:

Type of Coleslaw Serving Size Total Carbs (grams)
Plain shredded cabbage 1 cup 5 grams
Vinegar-based coleslaw 1/2 cup 7 grams
Creamy coleslaw 1/2 cup 10-15 grams
Coleslaw with crackers, noodles 1 cup Up to 30 grams

Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully, as commercial coleslaw products can sometimes contain surprisingly high carbs from added sugars, starches, etc. Making your own coleslaw is the best way to control carbs.

Tips for Low-Carb Coleslaw

Here are tips for making or choosing coleslaw with less carbs and sugar:

– Opt for oil & vinegar dressings instead of creamy dressings
– Avoid coleslaw with noodles, rice, croutons, crackers, etc.
– Stay away from coleslaws with dried fruits, pineapple, cranberries, raisins
– Choose plain, shredded cabbage as the first ingredient
– Read labels and look for lower carb options under 10g per serving
– Make your own with just cabbage, vinegar, oil, spices and herbs
– Rinse cabbage in cold water before dressing to remove excess sugars
– Add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for tangy flavor instead of sugar
– Use Equal, Truvia, Splenda, stevia, etc. instead of real sugar in dressings

With some tweaks, coleslaw can be a fresher, lower carb alternative to standard diabetic side dishes.


Coleslaw can be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes when enjoyed in moderation. The cabbage and other vegetables provide important nutrients without significantly impacting blood sugar. Be mindful of portions, read labels to avoid added sugars and starches, and stick to vinegar-based or homemade dressings. Diabetics should monitor their individual response to coleslaw and pair it with foods that help manage carbohydrate intake and blood glucose levels. Made with care, coleslaw can provide flavor and crunch to complement balanced diabetic meals. Discuss intake with your medical team for personalized guidance.

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